Friday, November 20, 2009

The Cockermouth floods

When I eventually switched on my computer my inbox was full of messages of concern about our well-being. Cockermouth has made the news around the world for the flooding that has overwhelmed the town centre. Fortunately our house is at one of the higher points in the town, well above the water level. The main effects the disaster has had on us have been a couple of power cuts, a night disturbed by the sound of helicopters and emergency sirens, no access to the shops and the broadband internet not working. I am sending this from a netbook using a 3G mobile broadband dongle.

Cockermouth has flooded before, twice in the last few years, but this is probably the worst flooding since 1938. This time, the river Derwent flooded Main Street to a height of up to two metres during the night. By the time we took the picture above, late this morning, the water level had fallen by more than a metre. The pressure of the water had shattered shop windows, washing all the stock to the back, and we could see the tide mark left high on the wall by the water.

Cockermouth has many unique, independent businesses including a surprisingly large bookshop - only recently refurbished - several quality clothing shops, and shops selling hand made arts and crafts. It is normally a wonderful place to do Christmas shopping. All of these businesses are ruined, with little hope of recovery in time for Christmas. The word tragedy cannot begin to describe what this is for these small businesses.

The Christmas lights are up and the tree in place ready for the official switch-on of the illuminations this Sunday. Even if the water subsides by then - and more rain is forecast for tomorrow - I doubt if that is now going to happen.

Another casualty of the floods was Wordsworth House (seen above), birthplace of the famous English poet William Wordsworth and a major tourist attraction now in the care of the National Trust and open to the public as a museum. Olga works there one morning a week as a volunteer. We saw the custodian who said that the water level had been as high as the top of the wall. It is not yet known what damage has been done and what historical artefacts have been ruined or lost.

My heart goes out to the people who live near the river who have only just had their homes dried out after the last, much less severe, flooding.

As I write this, the rescue work still goes on. Helicopters still occasionally fly overhead, and you can still occasionally hear sirens. More heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow.

But it will take months for properties inundated by water to dry out and become habitable again, months for businesses to start up again - if they ever do - and months for the town to return to normal. This is, in the truest sense of the word, a disaster.
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