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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 November 2009

Flood chaos in Cumbria

ONLY FOUR years after devastating floods forced thousands from their homes across the county, the heaviest rainfall on record brought rivers crashing over their banks and through people's homes.

A Cumbrian resident

Here in Cumbria we're no strangers to bad weather but both the scale of these floods and the speed the water rose are unprecedented.

In the space of 24 hours, 1,300 homes were flooded, bridges destroyed and large parts of the county submerged. In Cockermouth, where two rivers meet, the water level rose so fast residents were unable to escape on foot and had to be plucked from upstairs windows and roofs by helicopter.

The worst flooding has taken place in the towns along the River Derwent. Parts of Keswick, Cockermouth and Workington look like war zones. Workington has lost both its main bridges while Cockermouth Main Street became a river seven feet deep.

Environment secretary Hilary Benn claimed that the flooding was a 'one in a thousand year event'. This may be true but he also admitted that the failure of politicians to tackle climate change makes freak events like this more likely.

The misery brought by these floods is far from over. There are still several severe flood warnings in force and more rain forecast. Collapsed bridges and road closures mean that some people are facing up to an 80 mile round trip for a journey that took ten minutes a week ago.

Though the coverage in the press has focused on events in Cockermouth and Workington the flooding has affected towns and villages right across the county.

Even areas which have not experienced flooding are facing travel chaos as each of the county's 1,800 bridges are checked. Currently there is only one bridge across the River Derwent, which all the traffic in West Cumbria tried to pass over on Monday morning!

Responses

The one glimmer of hope has been the way ordinary people have responded to the crisis. Within a few days of opening, the evacuation centres in Cockermouth were reporting that they no longer needed supplies such as clothes and blankets as so much had been donated by local people. Almost all the people who have lost their homes have managed to find places to stay.

The truly heroic efforts of the emergency services and local mountain rescue teams, which are staffed by local volunteers, ensured that casualties were few. Tragically, a police officer lost his life when the bridge he was preventing traffic from crossing collapsed beneath him.

This response is in stark contrast to the reaction of central government. Gordon Brown wasted no time in pledging on TV 1 million to help with the recovery. However, with preliminary estimates already putting the cost of the recovery at up to 100 million this is peanuts. The offer of such paltry sums is effectively an attempt by the government to buy favourable headlines showing that they are 'doing something'.

Compare this small change promised to people who have lost everything to the billions lavished on bailing out failed banks and wealthy businessmen.

The devastating flooding across Cumbria could be a sign of things to come for the rest of the country. Without an urgent solution to climate change the sight of flood water surging through town centres may become a familiar one for the UK.

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In The Socialist 24 November 2009:

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Related links:

Cumbria:

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triangleA speaker at the youth climate change protest in Newcastle, 21.6.19, photo by Elaine Brunskill

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