One year on from the Cumbria floods: How are people coping in the aftermath?


On December 5 last year, Storm Desmond devastated thousands of lives and houses across Cumbria - and one in ten of the 5,319 householders flooded still can't return home.

It means hundreds of families are spending a second Christmas in temporary accommodation, following the flood that caused £500 million of damage.

Heartbroken Anne Reay sits in the ruins of her home - one of hundreds of people facing another miserable festive season a year on.

Anne Reay (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Anne Reay (Owen Humphreys/PA)

"I had just put the Christmas tree up the night before it happened and it was swept away," said the 71-year-old widower, who will have been out of her house for 15 months by the time she is back in next March.

Noisy de-humidifiers and blowers whirr, pushing and sucking the moisture out of the brickwork still sodden by six feet of polluted water that swamped the homes on Warwick Road in Carlisle last year.

The former financial adviser, originally from Finchley, said: "It just feels absolutely awful. There's lots of things with my husband dying, things we put in that he picked and they are all gone now. Memories.

"It's heartbreaking when you come down, it's heartbreaking, and you think: 'Why me?' But that's how life is - it isn't always fair, is it?"

One year on damage from the floodwater remains (Owen Humphreys/PA)
One year on damage from the floodwater remains (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Reay's three grandsons currently live with her in a "tiny" two-bedroom house, sleeping on sofa beds, as her own daughter is awaiting a cancer diagnosis.

"I can't look after her how I want to look after her, because of all this," she adds. "You can't relax. It's not the same as living in your own home - you are desperate to get to your own home, no matter what it's like. Your own bed.

"So, life is awful at the moment."

Destruction wreaked by Storm Desmond is no longer everywhere you look, but there is still widespread evidence of what happened; skips now filled with building material rather than family heirlooms, sandbags and the odd settee littering sidestreets of the city.

(Owen Humphreys/PA)
Tom Armstrong (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Inspecting the battered original Victorian front door to his home on Eldred Street, Tom Armstrong said: "This is what gained me my criminal record."

Tradesmen had crowbarred the door to get in, after snapping the key in the lock.

Flooded out, frustrated and at the end of his tether, he took an axe to a builder's van, then went to fetch a policeman to get himself arrested.

"I'm not one for losing my temper..." he adds ruefully.

Two failed relationships, one ruined home and a police caution later he is still months off moving back in after lengthy disputes with loss adjusters and insurers involving complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Pooley Bridge in Cumbria last year (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Pooley Bridge in Cumbria last year (Owen Humphreys/PA)

"I've been round and round in circles," he said. "They don't have one iota of what it's like. None of them have ever been flooded. Now I'm so far behind, I'm not a priority any more, so I'm having to wait again.

"If you take my contents claim, they expect me to have receipts and proof of purchase for every single item on the ground floor. I've lived here 13 years."

The self-employed bathroom installer said life is "awful" living in "horrible" temporary accommodation.

"I'm losing more hair, I'm gaining weight. I'm drinking. I never used to drink. I've had two failed relationships now."

(Owen Humphreys/PA)
The devastating effects of the flood last winter (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Round the corner on Petteril Street, there is a little festive cheer. Four generations of the Little family, nine of them aged between 10 months and 81, are finally back home, with their three dogs in tow.

The family fled the water to live in a relative's two-bedroom house before getting rented accommodation until they moved back home out of desperation last month.

Morag Little said: "Last year was bad enough, we didn't have a Christmas. This year I said this would be their Christmas this year, but because of the insurance messing about and not getting this and not getting that, it's tough. They will have to get what they are given."

Information can be found and donations can be made for flood victims on the CERT Facebook page.