Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Storm chaos: Angry flood victim confronts David Cameron over aid effort to her village

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

An angry flood victim has confronted Prime Minister David Cameron demanding to know why her village had been abandoned by the authorities as heavy rain and gales hit Britain.

Erica Olivares collared Mr Cameron live on television as he toured Yalding in Kent, one of the villages worst affected by flooding over Christmas.

She said Maidstone Borough Council had left villagers without electricity, while teenage Sea Scouts were drafted in to use their canoes to rescue householders because firefighters were too busy elsewhere.

Ms Olivares said villagers had tried to contact the council but were unable to get through because staff were on their Christmas holidays.

In an angry confrontation with Mr Cameron in front of the television cameras, she said: "We still have no electric. We need electric. As I say, the council, from Monday, we have been trying to contact them, but they have all decided to go on their holidays. Nothing."

Mr Cameron appeared rattled as he tried to defuse the confrontation by promising to contact the council himself. He then moved on to another property.

Later, Ms Olivares insisted she was right to press Mr Cameron, telling Sky News she had moved to the village after being assured by the council they were bringing in adequate defences after the last floods.

"I just told him what had happened and how we had been affected and also about how disappointed I was about how the local council had treated us," she said.

"We have had no help, especially over Christmas Day we were totally abandoned - we had no hot food, no hot drink, nothing. We were up to our waist literally in flood water the whole of Christmas Day."

"Where does it stop? How many more times is it going to happen? Who is ever going to get flood insurance around here again? Nobody. But if they do, it is going to be so high that nobody will be able to afford it."

Her comments followed heavy rains and gales of more than 100mph across Britain overnight, just days after the last storm caused misery for tens of thousands of people.

Police and fire services up and down the country have already reported road closures because of uprooted trees, while the Met Office recorded a gust of wind in Aberdaron, in west Wales, of 109mph early this morning.

Speaking to reporters in Yalding, Mr Cameron said the flood defences were in place but the heavy rains had been so severe in some places that they were unable to cope.

He admitted the Government needed to do more work with the Environment Agency to see what lessons can be learnt from the floods.

Mr Cameron said: "Sandbags should be made available. Here they were given warnings. There were warnings from the Environment Agency but they weren't always accurate but they did know flood action was coming.

"Look at this man's house, I was just talking to. That was a flood barrier he got after 2000 - quite a high flood barrier. But this was such a massive flood the water went over the flood barrier and into the house.

"Sometimes these are very, very tragic events. It is impossible to protect everybody against everything but we have got to do more and we have got to do better."

Geraldine Brown, chairman of Yalding Parish Council, said the cost of the latest flood damage in the village was expected to reach £12 million as she asked Mr Cameron for a new £20,000 barrier for the River Beult, a tributary of the River Medway which flows through village.

"With a flood this size sandbags don't do anything," she said. "We could have perhaps had Kent Fire and Rescue a little earlier but you have to remember it is a huge, huge area and we are just one of those areas."

And Helen Grant, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, said villagers had pulled together as they responded to the crisis.

In one case an elderly woman stranded on the top floor of her house had Christmas dinner winched to her in a bucket so she could remain in her home, she said.

Mrs Grant added: "I have seen amazing acts of courage and heroism here. I have seen 16-year-old Joseph Wilson canoe back and forth to rescue people, possessions and even animals. There were canoes and dinghies bringing people, pets and belongings to safety for hours on end.

"It is awful that this has happened to the community and it is devastating to see. It's dreadful but hopefully we are through the worst and we can get on with getting people back in to their homes, reuniting families and the clean-up can begin."

In a statement tonight, shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said Mr Cameron should consider convening Cobra, the Government's emergencies committee, if the power supply is not urgently restored.

He said: "David Cameron has serious questions to answer about why it is taking the energy companies and the Government so long to get the power supply restored.

"People need to know what is going on. The energy companies must ensure they are providing proper information and support to all households without power - and not leaving people's calls on hold for hours on end."

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