Storm Desmond

The BBC online “live reporting” of events during Storm Desmond has been illuminating – that’s if of course you’ve had electricity. Many people in the affected zones had none, and with no mobile phone coverage over the weekend, battery or wind-up radio would have been their only source of information.

“Unprecedented” has been the mantra of politicians, claiming that flooding such as this is an infrequent occurrence. But tell that to the people in Carlisle who are now flooded out of their homes for the second time in ten years or Cockermouth for the fourth time in ten years. Or to people in Hull where more than 8,000 homes were flooded in 2007. Severe flooding should now be expected.

What’s it really like clearing up after a major flood? In our evidence to the Government’s Pitt Review into the 2007 floods based on our research into their effects on Hull we tried to convey some of what people had told us.

For example, some were unsure what needed to be thrown out:

‘We lost the fridge and the freezer and the cooker in the kitchen but the scary thing was we were actually still using them – nobody condemned them or even suggested that they were contaminated until we moved out. And then they said, “Oh you shouldn’t have been using them”. You find out different things from different people. Just by talking to your neighbours – they’d been told a completely different story to what you’re getting told by the insurance company.’

Uncertainties around insurance become a source of huge anxiety:

‘They say a lot of people didn’t have insurance and now some who are trying to get some have been refused by three different high-risk specialist companies. Those that have claimed can’t seem to get renewals…’

Finding somewhere to live when you are flooded out of your home reveals some of the iniquities of the market, and how people can be exploited in the face of a disaster:

‘I was very relieved to move out of our home so that the drying could start, but I’m convinced that our insurance company and ourselves are being ripped off, being charged £850 a month for it. Prior to the floods, there’s no way they’d have got that amount of rent.’

In fact project managing the recovery takes over everything:

‘Left another message [with loss adjustor] – no response. If he would just call me back, it’s so frustrating. This seems to be taking up my whole life – god, what did I do before the flood?’

What our work on the floods in Hull showed was that no one talked to the children who’d lost their homes and social networks. In our current research we’re working with a group of children in South Ferriby (Humberside) who were flooded on December 5 2013 during the storm surge of that winter, exactly two years ago to the day from Storm Desmond. These children and another group from Staines-Upon-Thames (severely flooded in February 2014) have made a film and produced Flood Manifestos for Change.

These manifestos call for further measures to help prepare for, manage and recover from floods such as lessons in school about flooding and other emergencies; teachers to be trained about floods and how they affect people; groups set up for children affected so they can talk and get support; insurance companies to listen more to what children and families need; clearer flood warnings that people can understand and better flood defences with more building on stilts.

Because they’ve survived floods (at considerable cost) these children can cut through bureaucracy. Such multiple measures are needed to help prevent, prepare and recover from floods.  It’s widely accepted that in the UK flood emergency response itself is effective and caring, but we also know that recovery is long, complex and does not follow in a linear path (Hull Children’s Flood project/final report). We know that what matters to people now is how they are treated by agencies and organisations; how they can look after their health; how they can find support from people who understand and, a little later, how they can participate in resilience work so that they do not fall prey to fatalism and depression.

‘You feel like you’ve lost a year of your life’ (Male student, 14, Staines-Upon-Thames)