We were invited down to Somerset by local councillor Jill Shortland who has been working on the ground with FLAG Somerset since the floods hit. The area has been deeply affected by flooding and, even though the waters have mostly receded since last week, flooding is still continuing to cause problems.
First we stopped off to visit our friends at the Flood Action Distribution Centre in Bridgwater. We visited Elaine and the team of volunteers there a few weeks ago to help deliver a lorry-load of donations from Castlepoint Motors in Essex. The centre is even more organised than when we first visited and the donations have continued to pour in, which was fantastic to see.
We then went to Moorland, one of the worst affected villages on the Somerset Levels, which was quite a sobering experience. As you enter this normally picturesque village, you are greeted by a network of enormous pumps and pipes, pumping contaminated flood water from the surrounding fields that are still submerged.
Thankfully the flood waters in the main street of this hamlet have receded and the Environment Agency’s pumps are winning their battle since the rain ceased. Nonetheless, the devastating impact of the floods is palpable. The hedgerows and river banks are strewn with a mixture of rubbish, broken furniture, wood and even electrical appliances like fridges. Each home bears the mark of how high the water rose, destroying their homes and possessions.
We visited the home of Jane whose home in Moorland has been utterly destroyed by floods. The marks of the water level can be clearly seen on the walls of what was once her daughter’s bedroom, which comes up to shoulder height.
When we arrived a team of volunteers from FLAG Somerset were working hard to remove all her flooded belongings including carpets, teddy bears, furniture and ruined photographs from the house. These were loaded onto a trailer and will all eventually end up at the rubbish dump, as due to the level of contamination they are salvageable. Sadly, Jane’s insurance company would not insure her after she was flooded in 2013 and so this time around she will have to pay for all the flood repairs herself.
Thanks to fund-raising efforts of some generous Flood Volunteers we were able to donate two dehumidifiers to Jane to start to slow process of drying out her home now that the flood waters have gone down. Jane shared with us how moved she was that volunteers from FLAG Somerset and Flood Volunteers were helping her get her home sorted.
Some residents of Moorland have been told it’s their fault for living on a flood plain, but many of these families have been living in their homes for generations and haven’t been hit by flooding in this way before. People cannot sell up and move on; mainly for the emotional wrench of having to leave their homes and communities, but secondly, as they wouldn’t be able to find buyers and they would lose everything.
We spoke to flood victims who seemed to all share in the opinion that the most frustrating obstacle for them is the slow and bureaucratic response of some insurance companies. They aren’t allowed to touch, clean or remove any of their belongings until the loss adjusters have completed their assessment of the damage, which is taking too long and in some places hasn’t even started yet.
It was really heartening to see the direct impact flood volunteers are having in Somerset. Without their work and the coordination of FLAG Somerset these families would be pretty much on their own. The media attention has moved on, but there is still work to be done. We are working to coordinate Flood Volunteer efforts and yesterday’s visit has given us a clear understanding of where help is needed.
The current flood situation in Somerset means that the main focus now is the clean-up operation followed by the assessment of damage by surveyors. Eventually the repair and redecoration can begin. In the next few months tradespeople including electricians, plasterers and builders will all be needed.