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Church gives vital support in Somerset floods crisis

31 January 2014

by a staff reporter

A CHURCH surrounded by floodwater for four weeks has become the centre of the community. The village of Muchelney in the Somerset Levels - whose name means "big island" in Anglo-Saxon - has been cut off since the beginning of the month.

When the Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, arrived in the region this week to see the flooding for himself, he was met with anger.

He failed to arrange meetings with residents, and gave only a handful of interviews to the national media, in which he promised a six-week review of the situation on the Levels.

On Wednesday, after a meeting of the Cabinet Office's emergency Cobra committee, the Government announced that military personnel and resources were to be deployed to help the affected communities. Earlier on Wednesday, David Cameron had said that preparations for dredging rivers must be speeded up. 

On Thursday morning, the Ministry of Defence tweeted that vehicle crews and up to 100 personnel, mainly from 40 Commando Royal Marines based at Taunton, were standing by.

Somerset County Council's deputy chief executive, Pat Flaherty, said that he was delighted with the meeting and was looking forward to "swift and tangible results". Farmers and other residents had called for urgent dredging of the Tone and Parrett rivers.

The Langport Team Ministry, includes Muchelney and seven other parishes, of which several have suffered flooding. The Team Vicar, the Revd Jane Twitty, said that she understood villagers' anger: "It's really not easy for people: it's been going on so long. The farmers have lost acres of wheat; the animals are having to be kept inside, causing extra cost; and it's taking hours to make short journeys. And it doesn't look as if it's going to get better soon.

"The church has become the real hub of the village, open 24 hours a day, storing the post and food, and offering hot drinks to the firefighters who are manning the boats in and out of the village."

Ms Twitty has held services in Muchelney each Sunday, and seen more people coming to them from the village. Villagers are serving lunch after the service for people to talk and share stories. On the first Sunday of the flooding, villagers made models of all the homes in the village and left them on the altar for prayers.

Ms Twitty said: "We have also written down all the good things that have come from this - including getting closer to neighbours and the support of the firefighters. But yes, we are praying for an end to the rain."

The Environment Agency had defended its handling of the flooding crisis. It said that staff had "worked their socks off" over the past two months. The chairman, Lord Smith, said that the Agency believed that dredging the rivers would make only a "small difference" to the flood-risk.

After a brief cold respite at the end of this week, more rain is expected today and next week. Ecclesiastical Insurance, which insures the majority of Britain's churches, said that about 100 claims had been received for flood- and storm-damage to churches in January.

Flooding in other areas including Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, which were badly hit over New Year, has begun to recede. Water is leaving the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels, Tirley, near Tewkesbury, which was completely cut off by flooding both this year and last (News, 10 January).

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