MEET THE FLOODIES
Published at 11:34, Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Keeley and Ashlyn Holliday swam out of their home; Emmeline Long boarded a Cockermouth Mountain Rescue dinghy and Dani Cleeland watched the filthy, foul, floodwaters swamp the town from an upstairs window.
They’re just some of the youngsters known as ‘The Floodies’ – the Cockermouth School kids swept out of their homes by the wild waters last year.
They had to escape the waters, save their pets and their valuables. Then they had to cope with settling into temporary homes and endure school journey times stretched beyond an hour by fallen and closed bridges.
They had to try to carry on as normal, going to school, learning lessons, sitting exams.
Looking at the smiley, joking collection of youngsters called together in Cockermouth School’s Eco Centre, it is hard to believe what they have been through.
That they saw their homes in Derwentside Gardens devastated; that they have been forced to live in strange, temporary houses for months – some in two or three; that they saw main streets of their home town reduced to the wrecked state of a war-zone.
In all, almost 70 pupils needed to be re-housed after the flood waters hit the town last year.
Some thought it was an adventure, Emmeline Long says it was “exciting” for her to be saved by the rescue dinghy, clutching her pet rat in a cage and her cat in its basket.
“It was scary and exciting at the same time.”
But her broad smile drops a little as she admits: “It was weird, you felt lots of emotions.
“Afterwards, in temporary accommodation, it hit me how bad it was.”
Keeley, 13, and Ashlyn, 11, had to swim out of their home with their seven-year-old sister Rhianna.
“The water was up to our chest. It wasn’t bad,” says Keeley with a hint of quiet pride.
“We went to grandma’s and the five of us [with mum and dad] stayed in her two-berth caravan.”
Dani Cleeland, 18, saw the disaster unfold from her home above the shops on Main Street.
“Me and my mum spent the night trapped in the house.
“We were looking down on the river going down Main Street.”
Watching the uncontrollable control force of nature take over the town was fascinating, for a short while.
“I then realised the flood was happening. It was exciting, not in a good way, but it was different seeing it all happen.
“I went walking round with friends on the Friday. It was surreal.
“You knew it had happened and it had not sunk in.”
So many families across Cumbria lost so many possessions: furniture, cars, electrical goods.
But it is the little things that are most valued by the heart, that have been washed away forever and cannot be replaced.
“We lost books, things like videos of when we were babies, pictures, certificates, that sort of stuff, ” adds Keeley.
“Lots of our photos had mud on that wouldn’t come off, school pictures and others,” adds 11-year-old Lauren Coulson.
Any excitement caused by the floods subsided long ago for the pupils. Evacuation to temporary accommodation to allow houses to be repaired and to dry out meant leaving the comfort and security of their own homes.
The Holliday sisters were moved out to Whitehaven which also added an hour and also meant that they had to leave school early to start their journey home.
“Temporary accommodation was not that bad, the worst part was thinking about what happened on the night of the flood,” says Anna Blenkinship, quietly.
Anna, 11, returned with her family to their Derwentside Gardens in March and she’s glad to be back.
Aliya Zaheen, 11, is back in her home, but she and her family were evacuated to a home in Whitehaven for a month before being moved to Dearham.
Emmeline and her family are still in temporary accommodation. She won’t be ‘home’ for Christmas. February perhaps.
“We first moved to Derwent Lodge Hotel at Embleton and it was great!” she smiles.
“But we only got to stay a month.
“We’re at Brigham and it added an hour each way at the start.
“Christmas in Brigham will be all right, the bungalow is a little smaller than we’re used to.”
And of course there are other major annoyances to bear, such as being moved miles away from your circle of friends.
Or, as Chris Bicknell explains: “We were lucky, we got a holiday cottage next to Rose Lane, so I still had my social life.
“But I had to share a room with my sister...”
The biggest and best tribute paid to the resilience of the youngsters came from themselves as the school achieved sparkling A-level results and best-ever GCSE results.
There was an overall pass rate of 99 per cent in GCSEs, with four out of five pupils achieved five A*-C grades, while 68 per cent gained five A*-C grades including English and maths.
But the events of a year ago still cast one major shadow over the sunny faces of the “the Floodies”.
They are now much more aware when it rains hard, more on edge – as happened during the heavy rainfall earlier this month.
“The water came up to the wall again at our house,” says Ashlyn.
“The garden fence was knocked down and it went pretty high,” she adds seriously.
“I was quite worried, but it was strange watching people panic about the rainfall, and being in a different position to last time,” says Emmeline.
“My friends wound me up about it, but I wasn’t bothered,” insists Chris.
“A lot of people thought the same would happen again,” explains Dani.
“If that amount had fallen last year, we would not have thought much about it.
“But because of what happened with the flood, we are much more aware when it rains hard.
“Some people got quite scared because of what happened last time and they think it is going to happen again.
“Now it is possible in our minds, whereas before, it did not seem possible,” she adds.
But there is another, happier, lasting legacy of the day the floods hit Cockermouth.
Flood socials have been held every month in the Kirkgate Centre, offering those affected the chance to get together.
At first, the gatherings were arranged to provide people with the chance to enjoy an evening out, to escape their cares or to share their experiences and emotions.
The first event was held within days of the flood and socials were held every month until the summer.
They restarted last month and the next is being held at the Kirkgate on Saturday.
Naomi Thomas has been closely involved in organising and running the evenings.
“When it stopped, everyone complained and wanted it back,” explains the 17-year-old.
“So there is one this weekend and a children’s special on December 17.
“People have been saying that it kept the community together, kept each other strong and helped them through the disaster.
“It is good for them to interact and speak about their experiences.”
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk