Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Watery Saga or The Miller's Tale

A week ago we were under water. It began on Friday afternoon - a blustery, sunny day, but we had been mildly flooded the night before.  Over night on Thursday the river had come bounding over its banks, after ten days of storms, and lapped over the cobbled driveway outside the mill, making every expedition beyond the house a welly boot job. Minor roads were wheel-arch deep in water and almost every river and beck full.

The footbridge outside the Mill on a normal day.
We were still drying out from that when, on the Friday evening weather forecast, they flagged up the imminent arrival of Storm Desmond, a tightly wrapped torpedo of a weather system with a long tail like a comet stretching out across the Atlantic.  The main eye of the storm would miss us, the forecaster said, but the rain and wind trailing behind would give us an uncomfortable 24 hours.  They weren't sure of the exact trajectory, but it was going to rain - a lot.  More than a 100mm was mentioned.  We often get forecasts like this in the Lake District, but weather is so local here, a few miles can make everything different.  However, there was something about the look of Dastardly Desmond that said he was not to be underestimated.

It started to rain as it got dark, not particularly intense, but steady and purposeful.  By midnight the river was a surging brown torrent, level with its banks and beginning to explore the margins.  I went to bed and tried to sleep, but the wind was buffeting the windows and driving squalls of rain like gravel against the glass.  There were bumps and bangs outside.  At 2.30am I gave up the struggle. The river was rising much more quickly than usual - it was now over the banks, over my garden and lapping the steps outside the building.  The Mill is built on a plinth above the river bank to keep its feet out of the water. There are six steps up to the front door - about 4 or 5 feet. We measure the rise by how quickly each step disappears.  It was still raining heavily. By dawn the view from our front door looked like this: -
Dawn - the water has already reached the ground floor and pouring through. 
The TV weatherman was warning of at least another 12 hours of intense rain still to come and at that point I knew it was going to come into the building in a serious way.  I've lived here for 25 years and been flooded 3 times before, so have a fairly good idea of the way the river behaves.  I knew we were in trouble.  Once the river comes up, every hour of heavy rain is another step under water. So 12 hours is the steps outside and about 4 feet of water through the ground floor.  By 4.30am it was another 2 feet deeper and I rang the Local Floodline and heard a recorded message telling me that flooding was inevitable, there was a danger to life and property, to collect my valuables and move out.
The footbridge lunchtime on Saturday
I rang Neil in Italy as soon as I thought decent and told him to get on a plane - this wasn't going to be an ordinary event, but something catastrophic. They were now talking about 24 hours of rain.  The comet's tail was loaded with moisture and intent on dropping it all on already sodden Cumbria.  Then I woke my young lodgers in the granny flat and warned them not to flush the toilets and make everything safe.  Fortunately their rooms are above any previous flood levels.  They very kindly came down to the ground floor and began helping me to move some of the heavier items like washing machines up to Neil's workshop on the mezzanine level. They also offered to help evacuate our lodger on the ground floor, but he wasn't at home so there was nothing we could do. Then they went off to stay with their parents.  Good friends and neighbours arrived to help me take off the main doors of the Mill so that they wouldn't be swept out with the flood water.  It does less damage if the water can just flow straight though. There was too much water outside now to allow us to board up the windows.  On my own, without the help of friends, much more would have been lost.
Almost up to the top of the ground floor windows, Saturday morning
While we were working there was a surge in the river, which suddenly hurled itself across the ground floor like the Grand Rapids.  The water, which had only been ankle deep, was now at the top of our wellies .  I heard one of the windows smash.  It wasn't safe to be in there any more.

There is nothing anyone can do at this point.  We put off the electricity at the mains so it wouldn't short out once the water reached the switches. And then we started moving everything up one more level.  Even the mezzanine floor, which has never flooded in the whole history of the mill, was no longer safe. Fortunately, because of the flood risk, our main living accommodation is on the upper floor, but the forecast rain was so extreme, there was no telling whether that would escape.  There's also the worry about  structural damage.  The Mill, like a bridge, is built out into the river and takes the full brunt of the river's power once it floods. What is in summer a beautiful view, turns into a potential killer.
Rear entrance about to be cut off
I stayed as long as I could.  I didn't want to leave the building, but by now it was thrumming like a drum with the pressure of the water on the outside walls and the sound of the river going through underneath the floor was terrifying.  By late evening it was a foot deep on the mezzanine floor and in uncharted territory. For the first time I really saw the point of Twitter. Everyone was sharing information about which roads were passable, where flood help was available, and even identifying people who needed rescuing.  My small home town was inundated and other towns, downstream, in the Lake District were beginning to flood.  So many roads were underwater, it was now impossible to go anywhere in the county. Neil had managed to get as far as Preston in Lancashire but was stranded because there were no transport services running and all roads were closed.  Cumbria was completely cut off.
6 inches deep on the Mezzanine level and still raining 9pm.
I moved all our valuables, photographs and other precious things, into the part of the Mill that is built into the cliff, hoping that if the floors further out gave way, that part would still be intact. Then I climbed out of the top floor into my neighbour's garden (with their permission) and went to stay with our wonderful friends.  Not that it was a comfortable night - like many, many people in Cumbria I didn't know what I would find went I went back home.  Things were obviously never going to be the same again.

To be continued . . . .


6 comments:

  1. Good Lord, Kathleen - thank god you're safe!

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    1. Yes, I'm fine - it's just mess and repair work. Some people have lost everything. So sad to see the aftermath. I'm going to post on that later in the week.

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  2. Horrific, Kathleen. Every time I heard the news I thought of the picture you posted of your flooded mezzanine. Hoping for a good outcome.

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    1. It will be all right in the end Roz - for us it's just mess and hard work and money - as we don't have (can't get) flood insurance. We will grit our teeth and live with it. But heartbreaking for others who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Communities are strong 'up north' though and already the kindness of strangers is overwhelming.

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  3. About two years ago a powerful typhoon and a super moonson rain hit Manila simultaneously, over 24 inches of rain in about 12 hours, hundreds were killed. I went outside in the rain and it was so hard it hurt my eyes even when closed.

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    1. That sounds horrendous Mel - I remember that typhoon and thinking about you. You don't realise the power of water until you experience it.

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