Wednesday, 27 June 2007

After the flood, comes this

Thank-you to everyone who has been thinking of us. It means a lot to me and my family - simply to know that someone knows you are out there is very important, when your greatest fear is that you might be left behind with no-one to help you. But now the actual floodgates have been brought under control (until the weekend, anyway), my figurative floodgates are spilling wide open: this is the first of what I suppose will be a series of posts to channel that outpouring. And those who have better things to do than wade through these maunderings will not offend me if they overlook this and wait for me to get my knit on again. On Wednesday, I returned to the house to have a look. Remarkably, the flood had filled the basement but not breached the floorboards. The water had entirely receded: the only sign it had left of itself was a powerful musty smell and a terrific jumble of all the things it had whirled about in the basement.

We were extraordinarily lucky, not only in that the flood was confined to the cellar, but also in the way we were flooded (yes, it turns out that there are better and worse ways to get flooded): the water which got us was ground water from the rising water table, not the filth that was rolling along the river behind our house. Since I've been able to bear to look at the news pictures, it's very clear that other people have suffered and are suffering a good deal worse than we are. And since we rent, our landlord is responsible for the repairs (that's responsible legally, rather than responsible as a personality trait, sadly: he had to be told by my boyfriend to contact his insurer, but hopefully things will pick up now they're involved).

In a shameful way, I was almost disappointed - not because I wanted my home to be devastated, but because after the terror and the strangeness of being caught up in a natural disaster, and the terrific effort of escaping, I expected terror and strangeness in the climactic return to my house. But the high water mark of a flood isn't the end of it, of course. Maggie Tulliver in Mill on the Floss was a lucky girl in one regard: she spent all her heroics without having to participate in the clear-up. This evening, I read one of the stories in Tales from Moominvalley, "The Fillyjonk who Believed in Disasters". In it, the Fillyjonk's dread of a terrible event is finally satisfied when a storm takes her house; but on returning to her home the next day, she finds that more has survived than she expected. She is disappointed, too:

The old kind of fillyjonk was lost, and she wasn't sure that she wanted her back. And what about all the belongings of this old fillyjonk?

All the things that were broken and sooty and cracked and wet? To sit and mend it all, week after week, glueing and patching and looking for lost pieces and fragments.

To wash and iron and paint over and to feel sorry about all the irreparable things, and to know that there would still be cracks everywhere, and that all the things had been in much better shape before... No, no! And to put them all back into place in the dark and bleak rooms and try to find them cosy once more...

In the end, everything of importance was fine - including my stash, which was one of the first things I moved upstairs, on the grounds that while there are many more expensive things around, my collection of wool is actually irreplacable. It took a shockingly long time to realise that our possessions were imperilled, never mind ourselves. I spent Monday working at the library, out of sight of the windows - so although I knew it was raining heavily, I wasn't aware of the persistent deluge going on all day until first my neighbour, Chris, and then my boyfriend (who is working freelance in Bath this week) rang to ask if our area was flooded. I checked the Environments Agency website, got no flood warnings for our postcode, and blithely reassured everyone that things were going to be fine before going about the school run.

The rain continued to bucket down. By the time Jay and I had got down the hill from school to nursery to pick up Maddy, I realised that things were getting pretty bad and we'd probably better stock up on dry and tinned goods in case we ended up stuck at home the next day. At nursery, the nurses Becky and Claire were giddy with nervous laughter about getting back to their homes in Rotherham. We left anticipating a long journey home, but expecting to find a safe place to dry off at the end of it.

After waiting half an hour for the tram and then taking the best part of an hour to creep through the heavy traffic to Hillsborough corner, I thought we'd better stop on the tram and get some provisions from our local shops rather than take a detour to Tesco. When the tram terminated two stops early and I saw that the power was out all the way down Middlewood Road, I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. But I did take a picture from the bridge at Hillsborough Corner (that's the photo I blogged from my mobile, so it's a swollen river rather than my street; although if I'd been able to photograph my street, garden and basement, the images would have been similarly dramatic).

That photo marks the end of my detatched curiousity and the beginning of rising panic and fear. Jay and I walked back to our street, pushing Maddy in her buggy and talking about the hot buttered toast we'd have for tea. As we walked across the bridge crossing the river that runs behind our house, some kids walking in the opposite direction told me, "you'll have to carry your pram." I thanked them, and felt irrationally annoyed with them for telling me - well of course I would carry the buggy if there was a puddle. Only there wasn't a puddle: the river had burst its banks and was flowing across the bridge. I was able to lift the buggy clear but Jay had to wade through alongside me, crying as the foul water poured into his wellies (unfortunately he was wearing these socks, but I'm trying to see it as an opportunity to try out a grafted toe or something).

After this, my appreciation of the situation's severity began to escalate pretty rapidly. The bottom of the garden (which, sensibly enough, slopes down to the river) was a foot underwater, and the water was halfway up to the house. We got inside. I checked the basement - the water was lying 6" deep so I went down to switch off the freezer and tumble dryer but didn't turn the power off at the fuse - I was still thinking of eating toast and watching telly in the living room. So I popped the kettle on and rang my mum to check what I should do next, then left my tea to brew while I checked the basement again. This was not more than thirty minutes later: the water now looked to be waist height. At this point I swept the children upstairs, rang the fire brigade and cried incoherently that I couldn't get to the fusebox, rang Nathan and cried again, and then I set about getting organised.

This I did in a fairly erratic fashion. I moved things upstairs by the armful, frantically grabbing at toys and books; I turned off every appliance I could get to (the fusebox was inaccessible at the far side of the basement now); I had to hunt out all the "emergency things", the torches and tealights, that I'd squirelled away in unlikely places; I closed cupboards and doors with a feeling of finality, assuming that the water would be coming in shortly. Then I remembered that we would need drinks and food, so I found milk, juice, oatcakes and chocolate and tried desperately to convince Jay that we were having a fun picnic in his bedroom. But every time I left the room he got frightened and called for me; once when I came upstairs he grabbed me and asked me, "Will we all still be together if one of us gets dead?" And I told him that we would always be together, just as I have told him before that the people who love us are always with us.

By this stage I was very worried too: looking out of the window at the seething torrent running along the river bank, and the brown water standing in the garden, I knew that while I could do my utmost to protect my children, if the water took them, I could not save them. It is probably indicative of the complacency I felt about living by water that I wasn't entirely sure of the river's name until all this happened, but when that river is swollen to the full height of the bank, and water is rising inexorably up into your house, the implacable power of water is a terrible and unignorable thing. No power, no running water, two frightened children, a fusebox on the verge of drowning, a basement full of water, and with the street now streaming with water, no way out again. I could hear the contents of the basement banging on the living room floor. I rang the fire brigade again, I rang my Mum and Dad, I rang Nathan. I told Jay how brave he was and he cried frantically that he didn't feel brave anymore.

I was suddenly very sorry that I'd brought us all back here. "Home" had been such an important idea a couple of hours ago, but once you are trapped there it becomes far less of a homely place to be. The helicopters were circling overhead. Firemen were evacuating the other end of the road, but there were so many people in the same predicament, we had to just sit tight until things became dangerous enough to necessitate rescuing us - on my own, I could never get my children back across the flooded bridge. So when neighbour Chris appeared at our door to walk us to a safe place, I'm fairly sure I've never been so happy to see a big-necked man in a trenchcoat. I threw a few things into a rucksack and strapped Maddy into her sling while Chris gave Jay a reassuring hug, and then we set out into the wet.

12 comments:

Caroline M said...

It's the responsibility for others isn't it - it's rare (fortunately) to be in a situation that a muumy can't fix. I was speaking to someone who had the knock on the door - pack a few things and be ready to go in ten minutes. We asked her what she went for first. She started filling a bag with sandwiches for the kids, their favourite toys, photos. She knew that they'd be evacuated to somewhere with food but her first thought was to make sure that the children got their tea.

I'm glad that it didn't come higher in the house, very glad that you had the right sort of water. I wonder how long it will be before se stop being frightened at the sight of rain?

glittrgirl said...

I think you are all very brave and I and hoping that the forecast bad weather this weekend does not make things worse. My thoughts are with you all.

Seahorse said...

Oh... I don't know what to put. I've seen the awful pictures and felt sad and sorry for those worst affected but haven't cried until reading your post just now.

I'm so glad you're all ok physically. I hope the mental trauma of it all fades with time.

Queen of the froggers. said...

OMG, thats all I can say really. So glad you are all safe. I know the feeling of panic when water starts pouring, like a river, into my house and trying to move all the valuables away but not the feeling of potentially being stranded with children. (my experience was abroad, so we were in shorts and t shirt, like some mad wet tshirt comp, bare foot in the muck!) Well done you. Hugs x

clarabelle said...

I've linked to the wrong post. I've just realised your slightly earlier, but so horrible, post. Jeez, I hope we don't get what you've got over this coming weekend, but there's reasons for all this. It needs some sort of major government initiative....

Laura said...

I'm glad things weren't as bad for you as they could've been. I always feel safe in my home and if anything happens then that is where I go for refuge. But to have that taken from you is not something I have experienced and something I wouldn't want to experience. Especially with children :(

I have been lucky with the floods, but I know of so many people that haven't. Glad you are ok and back home though. And that your stash is safe :p

LilKnitter said...

Oh Webbo, my heart just about broke reading your son's plaintive words. How terrifying...

I have never been close to being flooded, but in the early 90's there were horrible, terrible floods in the Saguenay region of Quebec. I remember watching the footage on the news of houses washing away down the river, and marvelling. I am so, so glad that you are all well, safe and sound again. Bless you.

Yvonne said...

So good to hear that you are all ok, my sister lives in Hillsborough and is also flooded. I'm having hourly phone calls with her about the situation and it seems never ending.

Good luck with the clean up and the insurance company.

wheezy said...

Kids eh?

Iris said...

Glad to hear that you are all OK and that the water didn't get onto the ground floor in the end - it's bad enough that it flooded the cellar of course, but at least your living areas are OK... Hope you won't have any trouble with the insurers. They seem to deal with everything rather efficiently, but also predictably seem to be quite overrun right now!

honeybee33 said...

oh my goodness, your recount made tears spring to my eyes!!! Let's hear it for big-necked men in trench-coats!!!

~ hb33 ~

Prunella said...
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