A different blog this time. I live in the small Yorkshire town of Tadcaster. Over the last two weeks at times it has resembled a disaster movie.
It started on Boxing Day. In the afternoon Mrs M and I went for our daily walk. We arrived at Tadcaster bridge over the River Wharfe around 4pm. After much heavy rain the bridge had been closed. We assumed this to be a temporary precaution. The flood defences seemed to be holding and the river had not burst its banks.
We were mistaken. Over the next few hours the river rose at an incredible rate. Two hours later the town was flooded. To give you an idea of how quickly the river rose, let me share this graphic from http://www.gaugemap.co.uk
It may be be sad to follow a river on Twitter but for the last two weeks the tweets sent out have been must see viewing. The 3.70 and 3.79m lines show previous record recordings which were well exceeded.
It was terrible the next morning to see so many homes and businesses full of dirty brown water. This included many family run firms that are the lifeblood of our quirky town. But the response of the community and beyond to help those affected has been hugely positive. So many people turned up over the following days. We played a small part, helping to clear out sodden flooring from of the town’s Medical Centre but many others did much more.
People came from all over to support the town. We met a man who had come in his van from Pickering (40-50 miles away) to donate cleaning equipment. We helped him assemble a large number of self assembly mops and brushes, all put to good use. There was the local emergency action group, local volunteers and an array of organisations who provided capability, skills and resources that any town doesn’t normally have.
The clear up was underway when the next event hit. Tadcaster bridge, the vital link between east and west parts of the town, was inspected and deemed unsafe. It would remain closed for some time. We wondered how long this would be. Then it happened. Quite dramatically. The bridge partially collapsed. Spectacular video footage was captured by onlookers. This made national news in the UK and other countries. The pictures included hanging pipes from utility services. That evening there was a gas leak, a small scale army led evacuation and power cuts.
Things are now improving. Day by day we hear about local businesses reopening. We all want to support them but have a problem. Without the bridge the town is cut into two. The road diversion isn’t horrendous like the Forth bridge in Scotland but it is significant and many people don’t have cars. A free shuttle service runs in the daytime which helps and there is a footpath across a local viaduct but it is unlit, very wet and muddy on both sides. There is a better access route but a local landowner has blocked this (a whole other story). We hear the road bridge will take a year or more to restore. For now the town centre needs a simple pedestrian bridge. We await news of innovative solutions.
Of course it wasn’t just Tadcaster. Many places across the UK were affected. I can write this because our family was lucky – we weren’t flooded. Having helped clear the ground floor of a house that was, I have more insight of what it looks and feels like but nowhere near as much as those directly affected. My heart goes out to anyone past, present or future who has been. I’m also aware that in the UK we’re fortunate compared to what happens in many other countries. It is hard to imagine the natural disasters which bring large scale death and destruction often on the news.
For me the positive impact of this local disaster story has been seeing a small community pull together and others outside helping in its hour of need. The blog will return to the more usual stuff next time.