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Flood-hit Cumbria residents living in fear of next 'rainy season'

Published 26/06/2016

Cumbria was hard hit by flooding in December
Cumbria was hard hit by flooding in December

Struggling homeowners hit by the floods in Cumbria are living an enduring misery as they try to recover amid the dread and fear of the coming winter.

Hundreds of homes are still sodden and rotting, as worried local people count down the months left until the "rainy season" returns.

And while December's deluge has gone, so have many of the residents of the county's flood damaged streets - some never to come back.

"They can't face it," said Barbara Eden, 79, who along with husband John, 88, were part of Carlisle's army displaced by Storm Desmond.

"If it wasn't for my husband's health condition, I would move," she said.

"Some people will never return."

Mrs Eden, back home last week after six months out of her house off Warwick Road in the city, added: "Rented accommodation, oh I can't describe it, it's just been hell. Living hell.

"I have been quite lucky, our insurance people haven't been too bad.

"Some people did not have that insurance, they are sleeping on settees.

"I know one family where mum is in one place, the father in another and the two kids in separate houses. This is what's happening.

"And when they say, 'Cumbria, Carlisle is open, please come' it makes me sick."

The "once in a thousand years" deluge caused £500 million worth of damage and the long journey from despair to repair still has some way to go.

Across Cumbria almost a third, 31%, of the 5,319 households flooded have still not been reoccupied, according to Cumbria County Council.

In Carlisle alone 2,100 properties were hit.

Roads and pavements remain dug up as utilities are replaced, builders' vans clog the pavements and skips are dotted everywhere.

But there are not enough tradesmen and too many houses are still to be repaired.

Spick and span refurbished homes stand amongst rows of empty, battered and dilapidated houses, untouched from how they were left as the homeowners fled into the night.

Campbell Hannah is determined to use his £30,000 insurance payout to flood-proof his four storey Victorian house on Warwick Road.

The lovingly polished parquet flooring and original wooden skirting boards went in the skip, replaced by floor tiles. Kitchen appliances are now free-standing so they can be slid out in minutes and lifted onto frames kept in the garage.

Taxi driver Mr Hannah has been juggling the work at home and his job but hopes his wife, Julie, daughters Jasmine, aged four, Darrelle, 24, and Lily May, born last month, will finally return home by the end of June.

Mr Hannah said: "I could have got it done apart from being the project manager and the labourer. There's just not enough tradesmen around, everyone is flat out.

"I've lost my social life for the last six months, which we'll never get back. And loss of income. It's all been just a blur of activity the last six months."

Many householders though could not get insurance after previous floods in 2005 and 2009 and do not have the money for repairs.

One local builder tells how his cousin owns a ground floor flat on Warwick Road but cannot now live in it or afford to repair it.

He has locked the door, walked away and is back living with his parents.

Another house on Warwick Road is left untouched.

Neighbours say the owner accidentally left a single zero off his insurance policy and discovered he was insured not for £180,000 but just £18,000.

To Let, For Sale and Auction notice boards dot the streets, showing the "fire-sale" of properties.

A three-bedroom mid-terraced home bought for £140,000 three years ago, was up for a guide price of £75,000. Buy-to-let investors are moving in.

Grandmother of four Barbara Strong, 56, and husband Ivan, 64, are just back in their end terrace on Victoria Road after six months in temporary accommodation.

"I hated it," Mrs Strong said.

"I had a lovely sleep last night. First time for six months. You just want to be in your own home."

Sitting on a sun lounger in her front room, the smell of fresh paint still drying on the re-plastered walls, it's clear that the months of phone calls, letters and emails spent dealing with loss adjusters, surveyors, builders and insurers took their toll.

"I had to actually go in to Skipton Building Society and break down to the manager," Mrs Strong said.

"A lady at the desk said, 'Can I help you?'

"I sat down and I was beginning to tell her - and I just totally broke down in the shop. Totally broke down.

"I didn't know whether I was coming or going. I was speaking to different people, it was absolutely driving me insane.

"They were very good about it. It got things moving.

"Some people don't understand what it's like. I remember last time I got flooded.

"I had been talking to somebody and when you walked away you heard them say, 'What's she moaning for? She's getting all brand new stuff.' But that's not the point. It's what you have seen and gone through.

"It is a misery. It's hard to explain, you just don't ... It's soul destroying."

Today her new fridge freezer and washer arrived. In six weeks' time the sofa and carpets will come.

Some items could not be replaced. Her wedding photo album and all the pictures of her children as youngsters were lost.

The city holds its breath at every downpour and the couple like many others are "dreading" winter.

Mrs Strong added: "You are on your pins every time its raining for a few days.

"More so now because the flood defences didn't work.

"We are back in, yes, but you never feel the same.

"I don't think I will ever feel the same."

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