What to do if...your home is flooded

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The Independent Online

Donna Clark, 38, lives in Cockermouth. Her house was devastated by the floods that hit Cumbria in November, which caused a total of more than £100m worth of damage to more than 1,000 homes

"It's weird to have nothing to your name. It makes you feel like an orphan. Hopefully my landlord will be able to claim on his insurance and get the house fixed, but it is likely to be six to 18 months before I can move back in. It is a good idea to check your insurance if your house is at risk, because some companies have a £20,000 excess on flood damage. Some people round here can't get insurance at all.

"I'd advise people to heed any flood warnings. The river was high on the Wednesday, and we'd been warned that it might flood, but as we'd had warnings before but never been flooded I thought we'd be fine. I live on a road next to where the two rivers [the Cocker and the Derwent] meet, but I put up sandbags, and there had been new flood defences built recently. I ordered sandbags when the water was rising, but as my neighbours hadn't called, they didn't get any. You have to be self-reliant in this sort of situation; if you think your house is at risk, call the council and tell them what you need.

"At two o'clock on Thursday there was no water on the street, but just half an hour later the water was spilling over the top of my Wellington boots. It was hard to stay upright, and a real struggle just to get to the main street. I was really scared of being knocked off my feet and swept away. The water was really dark brown and moving with such force.

"Luckily I'm single so I didn't have any kids with me, and I'd sent my dog to a friend. There were people down the street who left their dogs at home and couldn't get to them for days; they must have been terrified. If you are going to leave them in the house, make sure they are upstairs and have plenty of food and water.

"Everyone should have a bag packed with at least three or four days' worth of clothes, socks, underwear and the like. Toiletries are really important, too, so make sure you have shampoo and deodorant. I had to go and stay with a male friend, so he didn't have any female toiletries. And think about where the most important things are, such as your passport, driving licence, credit cards, and put them to one side so you can grab them quickly. Think about what is most valuable to you, and what you'd like to save. The most upsetting thing for me was losing my mum's jewellery. She died when I was 20 and the gold cross she gave me for my 18th birthday and all the rest of her jewellery was lost. I also had an album with all my photos of her in it which was ruined. I collect 1950s and 1960s memorabilia, too, which all got lost. I've been collecting for years, and that was part of my identity, but it got washed away.

"Everything has been ruined. I was confident it would be fine, so I just left things downstairs on the work surface. When I get the chance to move back into my house I will move more of my belongings upstairs in case it happens again.

"I've not cried about losing my things, but I've cried about how nice everyone has been. For anyone else who finds themselves in this situation, I'd tell them that people want to help, so let them. I went to the clothes bank and they gave me shampoo and toiletries, the Trussell Trust food bank have been giving me whatever food I need, and the Red Cross gave me a set of pans. I come from London and have lived in Kent, but up here there is a community like nothing I've known. The floods have brought everyone closer. I've got lots of friends in the same situation, and it has helped me get to know people I didn't know before."