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
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
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
"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
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
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