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Residents still reeling from Storm Desmond effects, one year on

Published 02/12/2016

Rescue workers help residents to safety in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain one year ago
Rescue workers help residents to safety in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain one year ago

Heartbroken pensioner Anne Reay sits in the ruins of her home - one of hundreds of people facing another miserable festive season a year on from Storm Desmond.

"I had just put the Christmas tree up the night before it happened and it was swept away," said the 71-year-old widower, who will have been out of her house 15 months by the time she is back in next March.

Noisy de-humidifiers and blowers whirr, pushing and sucking the moisture out of the brickwork still sodden by six feet of polluted water that swamped the homes on Warwick Road in Carlisle last year.

The former financial adviser, originally from Finchley, said: "It just feels absolutely awful. There's lots of things with my husband dying, things we put in that he picked and they are all gone now. Memories.

"It's heartbreaking when you come down, it's heartbreaking, and you think: 'Why me?'

"But that's how life is - it isn't always fair, is it?"

More than one in 10 of the 5,319 householders flooded out in Cumbria have still been unable to return home.

It means hundreds of families spending a second Christmas in temporary accommodation, following the "once in 1,000 years" flood that hit the county on December 5 last year, causing £500 million of damage.

Mrs Reay's three grandsons currently live with her in a "tiny" two bedroom house, sleeping on sofa beds, as her own daughter is awaiting a cancer diagnosis.

"I can't look after her how I want to look after her, because of all this," she adds.

"You can't relax. It's not the same as living in your own home - you are desperate to get to your own home, no matter what it's like. Your own bed.

"So, life is awful at the moment."

Destruction wreaked by Storm Desmond is no longer everywhere you look, but there is still widespread evidence of what happened; skips now filled with building material rather than family heirlooms, sandbags and the odd settee littering sidestreets of the city.

Inspecting the battered original Victorian front door to his home on Eldred Street, Tom Armstrong said: "This is what gained me my criminal record."

Tradesmen had crowbarred the door to get in, after snapping the key in the lock.

Flooded out, frustrated and at the end of his tether, he took an axe to a builder's van, then went to fetch a policeman to get himself arrested.

"I'm not one for losing my temper..." he adds ruefully.

Two failed relationships, one ruined home and a police caution later he is still months off moving back in after lengthy disputes with loss adjusters and insurers involving complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Conduct Authority.

"I've been round and round in circles," he said.

"They don't have one iota of what it's like. None of them have ever been flooded.

"Now I'm so far behind, I'm not a priority any more, so I'm having to wait again.

"If you take my contents claim, they expect me to have receipts and proof of purchase for every single item on the ground floor. I've lived here 13 years."

The self-employed bathroom installer said life is "awful" living in "horrible" temporary accommodation.

"I'm losing more hair, I'm gaining weight. I'm drinking. I never used to drink. I've had two failed relationships now."

Round the corner on Petteril Street, there is a little festive cheer.

Four generations of the Little family, nine of them aged between 81 and 10 months, are finally back home, with their three dogs in tow.

They take delivery of a Christmas tree and decorations thanks to Kerryanne Wilde, who runs local charity Community Emergency Response Team UK, based in Penrith.

The family fled the water to live in a relative's two bedroom house before getting rented accommodation until they moved back home out of desperation last month.

"We said we had to leave, we couldn't stand it any more," said Morag Little, 50, the head of the family. "It was a nightmare."

She lost £4,000 to one tradesman, with his work having to be ripped out and started again, she said. And the £197,000 insurance claim is still not settled with the loss adjuster.

"He said we will sort of barter between us," said Mrs Little, who is registered disabled.

"It means that I've had to go into overdraft with everything because I haven't had the full claim settlement.

"I'm reliant on morphine and tablets, well a lot of tablets, and the amount of times I've just thought: 'Oh, I'll just take the lot!'"

She is determined the children and grandchildren will get a Christmas, but not the one she hoped for.

"Last year was bad enough, we didn't have a Christmas," she said.

"This year I said this would be their Christmas this year, but because of the insurance messing about and not getting this and not getting that, it's tough. They will have to get what they are given."

:: Information can be found and donations can be made for flood victims at: https://www.facebook.com/certcharity/

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