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Churches wade in to minister to flood-hit communities

14 February 2014

by a staff reporter


And still rising: high water in Worcester on Wednesday, as the River Severn burst its banks

And still rising: high water in Worcester on Wednesday, as the River Severn burst its banks

BISHOPS have demanded more support for flood-hit areas, as the flooding crisis spreads across the south and the Midlands, leaving communities stranded, and causing transport chaos.

Senior bishops met the Environment Minister, Lord de Mauley, to emphasise the impact that weeks of flooding is having on communities, farmers being among the worst-hit.

The crisis spread from the south-west to the south-east of England and parts of the Midlands and Wales this week, as the Thames overflowed its banks. About 1000 homes have now been evacuated across Somerset and the Thames Valley, and thousands more are still at risk.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, who is the lead spokesman on rural affairs for the bishops in the House of Lords, told the minister of his serious concerns about the overall impact on the south-west. "We are hearing stories of the suffering of people in flooded areas, and want to offer help wherever possible."

He asked the minister what further aid the Government could offer to the tourist industry, particularly in Cornwall, which was suffering additionally as a result of the disruption in rail travel. He emphasised the need for long-term co-ordinated planning to balance the needs of the farming community with the desire to protect wildlife, and the necessity of tree-planting, among other measures, to help maximise water-retention.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said: "Whilst there have been some excellent new flood defences put in place in Worcestershire since 2007, the city of Worcester itself has once again been crippled by these floods. I pay tribute to the emergency services that are under increased pressure at this time, but it has to be recognised that there is very real concern about the future impact of flooding on the city. The economic and human cost of flooding is very great."

The Prime Minister promised that money would be no object to helping people get back on their feet; but he warned that the country was in for the "long haul" with the floods, after the wettest winter since records began. He said that Britain had to build its resilience to floods, as the strong winds and heavy rain and snow are forecast to continue. Scientists have warned that it could take months for the water to recede.

Members of the armed forces have been drafted into many areas to help shore up defences and to evacuate people from their homes.

The Archdeacon of Bath & Wells, the Ven. Andy Piggott, told the General Synod this week of the suffering of people in his diocese. He said that Mr Cameron's visit to one of the worst-affected areas - the Somerset Levels - was "too little, too late".

"Business contracts have been lost; farmers and others who work hard on the land or care for animals have seen their livelihoods threatened. Rat-infestation has increased by an estimated 25 per cent and, for more than a month in some communities, no arrangements were made for the sanitary disposal of waste.

"The normal daily routines - things we all take for granted, such as going to school, the doctor, or local shop - have become a living nightmare," said Archdeacon Piggott.

Cornwall is cut off from the rest of the rail network, after storm damage to a section of railway track in Dawlish, Devon (News, 7 February). The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, said this week: "The storms appear, at present, to be relentless; and it is their continuing nature, and our inability to recover properly before the next one hits, that begins to undermine morale. It is a strange experience, too, realising you are, to all intents and purposes, cut off from the rest of the country. . .

"Far, far worse than the inconvenience to travel is the turmoil being caused to families, property, and to livelihoods. So our priority is to pray and to be there for those in the most need."

The Bishop of Crediton, in Devon, the Rt Revd Nick McKinnel, visited people who had been evacuated from their homes in Dawlish in driving rain this week. He paid tribute to the "brilliant" community spirit in the town, where churches have joined with councillors to raise money for those affected.

In the Somerset Levels, where the flooding has now reached its sixth week, people and livestock have been evacuated from some of the worst-hit villages. The Rector of St Peter & St John, Moorland, in Somerset, the Revd Jane Haslam, said that about 400 people had been moved out of the village, and only a handful remained in their homes.

People were "going through a whole range of emotions; some were feeling bereaved", but the community spirit was "phenomenal".

Mrs Haslam said that the Church's role was to be there throughout. "In a rural community like Moorland, with no shop or school, we have a presence and are still there. We held a service in nearby North Petherton at the weekend, asking people to gather and comfort and pray for each other, and more than a hundred came. We are there with people in their sorrow, but also to say: We have hope, too."

In Surrey, which has also suffered severe flooding, the Vicar of St Peter's with All Saints', Chertsey, the Revd Tim Hillier, said: "At times like this, it's our role as a church to support our community that's really hurting. We have the church open for people to just be still if they like."

Ecclesiastical Insurance said that claims for January from flood-hit churches had topped £800,000. General insurance claims are likely to be in the region of £1 billion, insurers estimate.

A relief fund has been set up for farmers suffering in the Somerset Levels by the Royal Bath & West of England Society, and a scheme to supply feed and animal bedding to farmers is being run through the Sedgemoor Auction Centre.

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