Tewkesbury battens down as flood waters rise once again

Elaine Nichols spoke for many in Tewkesbury yesterday as she pushed wet sand into pillowcases and rubble sacks before stacking them on top of a plastic sheet covering her front door. She said: "We are a town on tenterhooks. The sight of any water where it shouldn't be is enough to make me and my neighbours have a panic attack. We reach for the shovels."

Some 300 metres from the front door of the neat 1960s semi that the 37-year-old teacher shares with her husband and two children, a vast expanse of water that had escaped the confluence of the river Avon and the river Severn bore testimony to the unease felt by her and others in the Gloucestershire town that was rendered an island and devastated by the flooding of last July.

Mrs Nichols moved back into her house shortly before Christmas after work costing £25,000 to repair and restore her family's home had been finished. As she put it: "It would be cruel beyond belief if we were hit again just after we've taken down the Christmas decorations and begun to sleep easy in our beds again."

Hers was one of 1,600 homes in Tewkesbury that were badly damaged by the extraordinary floods seven months ago. The mere suggestion that the billowing, mud and sewage-laden waters could return is sufficient to send a paroxysm of anxiety through those who are still recovering from that ordeal.

By last night, the Environment Agency had issued 181 flood watches and 63 flood warnings, including one covering the stretch of the Severn that passes through Tewkesbury, after a band of heavy rain swept across southern England, causing disruption and localised flooding from Dorset to Dover. There were no severe flood warnings, the highest level of alert, and the agency said conditions were not as extreme as they were last July.

But forecasters warned that the next 48 hours will be crucial for Wales and the South-west. If further heavy rain falls today and tomorrow, rivers could start to overflow. As the floodplain was saturated by wet weather last week, it could lead to flash flooding.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: "People should be vigilant over the next 48 hours as the rain water moves down from the hills and into the river system. We have moved quickly to put up flood defences where necessary."

All of this was of little comfort to concerned homeowners in the worst-hit corners of Tewkesbury, a town founded for its strategic position at the meeting point of two of England's major rivers and now haunted by their insidious, destructive power.

Heavy rainfall last weekend once more brought the flood waters to within 10 metres of the town's medieval abbey. Yesterday they were still lapping around the historic centre as it echoed to sound of the machine tools of builders still putting right last summer's damage, and homeowners once more moved belongings to upper floors and made sandbag barriers.

Julie Irwin, 42, like many in the town's flood zone, is still living in a caravan. She shares her temporary home with her husband, three children, three cats and a dog. The caravan is parked on the drive of the family home, which is awaiting the arrival of contractors to rip out saturated floors and replaster walls. She said: "I am still living in a caravan, as are many others – they don't float very well. I just feel we are sitting ducks. My middle daughter's anxiety levels are very high. She keeps watching the television and saying, 'We are going to flood, we are going to flood.' People's mental health here is in question.

"I heard that an elderly man had a stroke on Friday because he was so worried about what was going to happen here."

Mrs Irwin headed an effort last month to highlight the continuing effects of the flooding in Gloucestershire by sending a Christmas card to Gordon Brown depicting the damage. The verse read: "Away in a caravan/ No room for a tree/ Merry Christmas from the flooded residents/ Of Tewkesbury." The town's council sought to allay some concerns yesterday by issuing sandbags despite the absence of a severe flood warning.

Residents in the old parts of the town centre pointed out that the large expanses of water on the flood plains around the town, appearing to create the impression that it was once more about to be inundated, was normal during wet winter weather.

Chris Pike, director of commercial services for Tewkesbury Borough Council, said: "We have not had reports of any properties flooding in the borough. But we do understand that people have a heightened level of anxiety after the events of last summer and we have raised our response to meet those concerns. We would not normally issue sandbags at this point but we are happy to do so in recognition of the worries that people have."

Others put a different complexion on the problem. Jim Arnold, 68, a retired truck driver, splashed into the flood waters in a pair of waders and he walked his two spaniels besides a bloated river Avon.

He said: "Bloody marvellous. This river has been doing this long before the first straw hut was built here. Every now and again it shows us who's the real boss around here."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn