Volunteers and the army rally round to help flood victims

18 December 2015

ecclesiastical insurance

Contractors clear out St Law­rence’s, in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria

Contractors clear out St Law­rence’s, in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria

MASS clean-up operations and fund-raising efforts have begun to help thousands of flood victims get back on their feet for Christmas, as water levels in the north of England continued to rise.

More than ten “Danger to life” warnings, and 30 preparation alerts, were still in place on Wednesday across northern England and Wales, and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Large parts of Lancashire, West Yorkshire, and Cumbria are among the worst-affected areas.

In Lancashire, about 20 families in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre were forced to abandon their homes for a second time as the River Wyre threatened to burst its banks. The parish church, St Michael’s, has been hosting a platoon of soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment while they tackle the floods.

The platoon were invited to sleep among the church hassocks by the Vicar, the Revd Andrew Wilkinson, Area Dean of Garstang and an army chaplain, as an alternative to the soldiers’ minibus.

The platoon have been working around the clock, making emergency repairs to four breaches of flood embankments, and helping with the evacuation. They rest between call-outs.

“The commanding officer was delighted,” Mr Wilkinson said. “Our electrician and the churchwarden worked all day to restore power to the church central-heating boiler, which kept them warmer than they might otherwise have been on a cold December night.”

The flooding has brought back painful memories for residents who witnessed similar scenes in 1984, Mr Wilkinson said. The Abbeystead waterworks were destroyed by a gas explosion that killed 16 and flooded the area. “We are 600 souls who have faced tragedy in the past and come through,” he said. “I believe this time will be no different.”

Two performances of the church nativity play have been rescheduled, and St Michael’s Church of England Primary School has been relocated to a farm near by. On Monday, the children went to Blackpool Zoo and a panto while their classrooms were deep cleaned. The community have also been offering accommodation to families without homes.

In a joint statement last week, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Lancaster, the Rt Revd Geoff Pearson, and the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, thanked the emergency services, the military, and volunteers, before expressing concern for the most vulnerable.

“Our continued thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been driven from their homes . . . especially for elderly and vulnerable people, and those struggling to find the help they need.”

An appeal by the Community Foundation for Lancashire has been launched for flood victims.

In Cumbria, the Team Rector of the Heart of Eden, the Revd Sarah Lunn, said that the market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland had been “cut in two” by the flooding. Crossing the river is now a 20-mile round trip, since both bridges have been closed to cars and pedestrians.

St Margaret and St James, Long Marton, in the same team, is appealing for money to help cope with the immediate need for food and accommodation until the town council opens a disaster fund.

Also in Cumbria, St Herbert and St Stephen in Currock, Carlisle, are donating funds from their Christmas-tree festival to the Cumbria Flood Appeal. More than 5200 homes were flooded, 30 schools were closed, and four bridges were cut off in the county when Storm Desmond hit the UK last weekend (News, 11 December).

The Vicar of St Herbert’s with St Stephen’s, and the Diocesan Urban Officer for Carlisle, the Revd Alun Jones, said: “It’s so important that people are able to glimpse a hope that things will return to normal. . . People need to feel able to draw alongside their churches. . . We are there to help them.”

On Saturday, the Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, set up the Cumbrian Floods Partnership group to review flood defences in the area and build stronger links between communities and flood-defence planning.

The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has since warned that Government spending cuts must not be allowed to affect vital flood-defence work.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is facing cuts of 15 per cent in day-to-day spending over the next four years.

To donate to the Lancashire Flood Appeal visit https://mydonate.bt.com/events/lancsfloodappeal, or text LFLD15, and your donation, to 70070.

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