Flood-hit Cumbria braces for another weekend of rain


Communities in flood-hit Cumbria are gearing up for a second weekend of wet weather.

The Environment Agency said it was checking the condition of flood defences and the position of pumps and temporary flood barriers ahead of a predicted 2.5in of rain on Saturday.

River levels in the county remain high having deluged homes and businesses for five days after Storm Desmond.

The agency said people could expect to see further flooding on ground that is already saturated.

Chris Wilding, the agency's flood duty manager, said: "River levels are high and the ground is saturated after the exceptional rainfall from Storm Desmond and rain this week, so we continue to ask people to remain vigilant with further rainfall expected this weekend."

A yellow weather warning for rain on Saturday was issued by the Met Office. Worst affected areas include Carlisle, Keswick, Kendal, Cockermouth, Appleby, Glenridding and St Michael's in Lancashire.

In Keswick the clean-up operation continued with help from the Army, who had spent the past five days in Carlisle.

The flood-ravaged market town, which saw the River Greta burst its banks, had 100 service personnel from 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster's Regiment knocking on doors ensuring people were safe and offering help.

Lieutenant Colonel Hamish Cormack said the focus had turned to recovery and the troops would be there "for as long as we are needed".

He said: "We are supporting what is a massive recovery operation. The whole thing has been pretty humbling, what the people have been through across Cumbria. We found ourselves rescuing the elderly and infirm, carrying them out.

"I think when they see 100 soldiers descend into the town, they (residents) are pretty reassured."

Cumbria county councillor Andrew Lysser, one of the volunteers at Keswick Volunteer Flood Recovery Group, said that even though the Army had been drafted in, the group of "volunteer foot soldiers" would continue to visit properties.

Regarding the police response, he added: "I never saw a policeman for three days - even then it was a PCSO (community support officer). It boils down to they don't have resources.

"We are the product of our own success. Yesterday we decided to have a meeting, we were absolutely exhausted, the volunteers needed a break and in walked the major of hundreds of squaddies saying 'can we help?'.

"They have come fresh with a fresh pair of eyes looking at the vulnerable areas. It was a massive weight lifted off our shoulders. If I want to emphasise anything it has to be the support and resilience."

But some say it has come too late after transport infrastructure was affected, roads damaged and schools closed.

Some 200 homes were flooded and 600 people in the town were forced to abandon properties, some for the third time in 10 years.

But retailers in Keswick declared they were open for business and determined to get back to normality despite a trail of destruction - and a bill of millions of pounds.

Some residents said there were mixed feelings about the £6 million flood defences installed after the floods of 2009.

One said: "It saved some people but destroyed others. The water which was stopped one way has gone the other way."

Guesthouse owner and retained firefighter Paul Maxwell, 44, of Babbling Brook Guest House, Keswick, is already counting his losses.

"The Army was too late for me, we needed everyone here at the time. We are a week on. It is a sad state of affairs. It is like a tsunami has gone through the park."

He added that he could not even think of Christmas, adding he was taking "every day at a time".

Meanwhile Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust shared its stories of staff who had gone above and beyond in their duties.

One "incredibly selfless" member of the mental health team canoed to work after her house was flooded, whilst the neurological physiotherapy team in Carlisle have given up their Christmas party to volunteer at the Hebron Church, handing out hot drinks and food to vulnerable people.

Cumbria's multi-agency Strategic Recovery Co-ordination Group said it had moved "into top gear" with plans to get the county back up and running as quickly as possible.

The group, chaired by the county council, brings together district councils, the Environment Agency, police, health agencies, Lake District National Park authorities, Cumbria Community Foundation, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and central government representatives.

Diane Wood, chief executive of Cumbria County Council, said: "Cumbria has bounced back from situations like this before and we'll do it again. We've got everyone round the table, we have a clear plan and we're now starting the long road to recovery.

"I want to be clear that while there's a lot to do, Cumbria is very much up and open for business. I have no doubt that with the resilience and resourcefulness of the Cumbria communities we'll emerge from this even stronger."