Heartbeaking! That’s what it feels going round my town, and seeing pictures from other towns along this little Pennine Valley in West Yorkshire. Boxing Day (26 Dec) floods devastated communities along the valley. For some, it was for the third time in less than 4 years.
Near us, the River Calder, park and canal merged into one, after hours and hours of very heavy rain. Below us water spilled out from the overflowing canal at a break in the wall, creating a raging torrent down to the already flooded stonemasons yard. On Sunday we saw the result. The road along side the canal had its surface ripped up, old cobbles exposed and swept away, and a deep gulley gouged out. Impassable. Along the canal bank, the main east-west fibre optic cable lay exposed. In our town centre, scenes of devastation, but things are reportedly even worse a mile down the road in Mytholmroyd, where a man was rescued from his landrover by boat. (you can see videos from around the area on Youtube – eg, 1, 2, 3).
After the water subsides there’s thick black mud on roads, pavements and in shops. People’s houses and nearly every business in this town of independent little shops are badly hit. The Hebden Bridge Picture House flooded, the stalls ruined. When the clean up began on Sunday, our family group take hose, brushes and a snow shovel to residents affected at the other end of town – off the beaten track and not getting the attention of shops and dwellings on the main road and town centre. Pick up some antiseptic wipes being handed out by the Coop, amongst others things, outside their flooded store. Christmas holiday ended for my visiting children, shocked and upset, now working to help in clean up.
Pavements filling up with ripped out shop fittings, damaged stock. People flocking to help, the town hall becoming the coordinating hub, and place for free drinks, food and materials. Other businesses and the Trades Club also offering food and drink, some carrying them round the town. But with the electricity off in much of the town by Monday late afternoon the activity winds down til Tuesday. Today (Wednesday) the power to most is restored with about 50 properties to go.
Everywhere people flocking to help*. Some just to see. A great response from both local community and further afield. With nothing open, no place to buy food, no working cash machines, and for many no mobile phone signal on some networks, in the first couple of days the generosity of those giving food away and coming to help is great – and is still going on.
Yet as the flood waters here recede, elsewhere they are rising. Other places, not just in rural areas and little towns but in cities have flooded – Leeds, Manchester, York. As I write a new storm brings more floods further north. The news focus switches. The government takes an interest, deploys a few hundred troops to help – and indeed they did today at our Little Theatre and elsewhere in town. But too little is reported about the many thousands of people working across communities in the north of England to help those affected – volunteers, council workers, utility staff. That’s why people are now talking about hope here – the fantastic response from the community and much help offered from elsewhere too.
Initially too, little is reported about the bigger picture of climate change that lies behind these increasingly frequent extreme ‘unprecedented’ weather events – not just here in the UK but worldwide. Slowly a few start to talk about climate change, rethinking the approach to flooding. Still too few, too late. Worse, such advice has been ignored too often before as George Monbiot pointed out in a Guardian article today. The local coordinator for Friends of the Earth writes an open letter to the MP for the Calder Valley saying “Calder Valley under water: Sacrificed to indifference and political ideology”
Perhaps though, at long last, some serious policy change may emerge, even if this is flying in the face of past experience. The Environment Agency says it’s time to review its approach – but it does after every flood. The PM mutters platitudes and some help is being offered but nowhere near the level of help or wide ranging rethink that is needed.
Here’s hoping – and working – for a better 2016 for all.
*Update on 2 Jan
If you would like to make a donation to help you can go here. As of midday 2 Jan 2016 this appeal by the Community Foundation for Calderdale had raised over £250,000 from a target of £1 million, with matching funds £ for £ promised by the government for up to £2 million.
A number of cafes, Saker Bakers, shops and the Cinema are open for business again. Do bring cash or cheque books as there are no cash machines operating in the town and many don’t have electronic payment methods.
More information on Facebook Calder Valley Flood Support page, on Hebweb, on Upper Calder Valley Plain Speaker and more photos at Bluplanetphotos .