Storm Desmond - the heroes of the floods
PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 January 2016 | UPDATED: 19:34 19 January 2016
The torrents that swept through villages across Lancashire and the Lakes produced stories of heroism and great community spirit. Roger Borrell and Glynn Ward visited St Michael’s on Wyre
Pamela Nickols stands in the middle of what was her pristine kitchen extension, completed just two months ago, and describes how she waded, bare-legged through a foot or more of icy flood water in an attempt to save treasured items.
You could forgive her for shedding a tear or two as she runs through the extensive damage done to her home at St Michael’s on Wyre on that terrible night when firemen had to give her 92-year-old mother a piggyback to save her from the onrushing water.
Not a bit of it. Pamela smiles for the camera and says: ‘People think I am ridiculously cheerful, but we still have many reasons to give thanks compared to others around the world.
‘The community has been marvellous and we have had tremendous moral support locally and via hundreds of emails. What has happened is unfortunate, but no one in St Michael’s has been injured or died, thank goodness. This is our home and we will most definitely be coming back to it.’
Pamela and her husband, John, were rescued by boat and they also managed to save their dog. It wasn’t the first time the house had flooded – there were similar scenes back in the 1980s.
She points to the field at the end of her garden and describes how the River Brock burst its banks and the water inexorably crept across the pasture and into her ground floor. The waters have now receded prompting Pamela to joke: ‘It’s a shame you can no longer see my water feature.’
This indomitable spirit, a mix of defiance and something we British call a sense of humour, has been found in every corner of our region – from the village of St Michael’s on Wyre to the soggy high street in Whalley and the blacked out homes of Lancaster to the water-ravaged properties of Carlisle and Glenridding. It hasn’t been without its tragic moments, of course, but in almost every case people have paused to get their breath before trying to bring some semblance of order back into their lives. Sadly, it will take many months before the same can be done for their houses.
Storm Desmond in Cumbria
Churchwarden Michael Fleet, St Michael's on Wyre
Claire Mitchell, St Michael's on Wyre
Damaged furnishings outside a house in St Michael's on Wyre
Pipes pumping out the fields around St Michael's
Farmer Carl Smith shows the mark the water reached
Pamela Nickols amid the damage in her extension
While the rest of us worried about getting everything wrapped for Christmas, the festivities were the last thing on the minds of many swept up in Storm Desmond. Amid the distress there were many stories of great heroism on the part of the rescue services and brave neighbours who were not prepared to leave those around them to fend for themselves. Once again, in a world that often seems self-absorbed, we saw examples of great humanity and comradeship.
The Grapes pub in St Michael’s provided hot food and shelter for locals while the village vicar, Rev Andrew Wilkinson, and his team played a major role in coordinating help and supplies for people in need.
The ancient church was turned into a barracks for soldiers who were brought in to help residents and then became a depot for huge quantities of items – from cleaning materials to towels – that had been donated by people across the north.
Churchwarden Michael Fleet said they had only just got the lovely old building back in order after thieves had stripped lead from the roof of the mediaeval church. ‘The whole community rallied around in the most brilliant way and the police and the Environment Agency have been marvellous. People have been very generous.’
Mother-of-four Claire Mitchell called into St Michael’s Church for supplies. ‘We got the flood warnings and we had a look at the Wyre but it didn’t seem too high. We hadn’t realised the danger was coming from the River Brock.
‘We went to bed but my mother-in-law got up in the middle of the night and heard the dogs paddling in the flood water. It’s been an incredible time but the kindness of virtual strangers has been brilliant.’
Claire and her family face some time away from the village while their home is repaired. ‘But we are coming back on January 3 when my four children are being christened in this church. We’re having a Jacob’s Join and we hope the whole village will come.’
What could be more appropriate for a village that has already shared so much?