Thanks for the many messages of prayer, support and help received after the November 2009 floods. To give an overall view of the days, weeks and months after the floods please take the time to look at the photographs (Double Click on the square photograph to see the others) and have a look at the pages about the flood day, the community response, the building recovery and some thanks. Fr Peter
The day of the great floods of 2009
Bear in mind that most people in High Hill, Keswick, had been through the flood of January 2005 and so the days and days of continuous rain, and the frightening rise of the the river Greta, were ominous signs that a flood which we were told was a fifty year event looked like returning in four! For days local people met and shared concerns and experiences as they became soaked looking, powerless, at the swelling and fast flowing river. Flood defences were in the planning stage as millions of pounds were argued about - together with the best “answer”.
By Thursday morning of the 19th November it was obvious that some scale of flooding was to happen: Schools were closed before young people arrived (my assembly was cancelled!), local volunteers and relief points were alerted, the roads were filled with blue lights and reflective jackets and (yes) boats - oh and more and more people checking the river height (See photographs). The very menacing pre-recorded telephone call came in warning people to “take valuables upstairs and look for high ground” came in but we didn’t need a warning! At about 11am the river the river broke its bank, not at the wall but down Crosthwaite Road which is its weak point, and gushed both down the road and turned right in front of the church or took a short -cut through the back roads to form another river behind the Presbytery. It crept slowly, but menacingly, up the church carpark..... I asked a police woman what we were waiting for now - she answered “high tide at 2.00pm” - it was about midday
Photographs: Please notice that the photographs were taken between 10.30am and 3.30pm (when it started becoming dark). Keep in mind the water continued to rise (though more slowly, until I went to bed at 10pm at least!
At some stage the decision was made to evacuate anyone who wished to find dry land - two parishionsers were offered accommodation at at a neighbour’s B&B, others were taken to local hotels, the Keswick Convention Centre etc. Eventually dinghies had to be used to ferry older people (and dogs!) to safety across the church car park. Greta credit goes to the Fire Brigade, Mountain Rescue , Keswick Lions and others who worked long and hard - an got very wet! About 4.30pm the electricity went off and an atmosphere of desolation covered the area - but the water was still rising. About this time the water reached the top of the church cellar and poured in, filling it to the brim in a couple of minutes (as in 2005). The last I saw (about 9.30pm) the water was half an inch below the sactristy step and lapping the church front door up the slope.
There comes a stage when you have done that mental exercise of asking yourself “ what would you save of your belongings from a burning building?” (This is much more telling when you meet people who live in downstairs flats who lost everything - even a life’s photographs). Looking out of the window I could see about four houses with faint hints of the flicker of candles in them so I blew mine out, checked the frond door step (half an inch more?) and decided to leave it to God!
I woke at 5am and decided to wade out in bear feet into the hallway downstairs. NO! its was dry! Opening the front door it looked like a wet morning in Keswick! How could water that had taken all day to rise run away so quickly? I think we need to visit Cockermouth to see the answer!
The good news was that, despite being in the middle of two raging rivers, the church building were (at first sight) hardly hit. Water had obviously washed into the back of church and slashed into the sacristy, the Parish Centre (St Herbert’s Centre) seemed intact, and the house was dry (But see Buildings Recovery). The next days were spent tearing carpets out of ruined homes - mostly the exact same houses as in 2005! It was evident everywhere that this flood was faster and higher than the last one - though, gratefully, with cleaner water).
Roads were flooded for days, High Hill was cut off with “road closed” signs, the bridges were closed and we had no electricity. We decided to use our parishioners to contact each other, discuss who came to each mass, and telephone to say there would only be one Mass, at 10.45am, on Sunday. It was a small and valiant celebration. What amazed me was that I saw not one person at the times of the other two Masses! Well done, team - oh thanks to Radio Cumbria, also!
It was not long before all the bridges were suspect and closed - this is important to this flood area as the bridge is our main route to town and the shops. A five minute walk became a twenty minute car ride (if you had one). The immediate issue was power and identical “United Utility” vans rolled into the church car park, like some sort of TV advert, for the next few days. The question is “How can they access people’s houses when the owners are evacuated in an unknown place?” The answer “If necessary we dig up the road and cut the cable to the house”. Bedlam and panic! Thanks to the hard work of the Utilities people power was recovered on Sunday just before it went dark - what shouts went up!