Evacuated in darkness as flood waters swelled, one family from the Somerset Levels don’t yet know the fate of their home. Andy Greenwood spoke to them of the fears and frustrations
The Langford family are living in limbo, not knowing quite how badly their home in the village of Moorland on the Somerset Levels will be flooded and not knowing when they will be able to return.
Like dozens of others, they were evacuated in the middle of the night last week as rapidly rising flood waters threatened their home.
They are now living with family 16 miles away in Butleigh, near Glastonbury, with the limited personal effects they managed to gather in the hour they were given before having to leave.
Katherine Langford, a 26-year-old Open University student, said the family had been through a rollercoaster of emotions, with tears turning to anger and frustration.
A lack of direct information from official sources has also fuelled rumour and speculation that little is being done to protect their community in order to protect others, adding to their distress and distrust.
“My parents have had their house for about 30 years and it has never, ever been in any danger of flooding before,” Katherine said.
“We didn’t think we were in any danger because we didn’t think they would allow the entire village to flood. Last year it got quite close when the village nearly ended up being cut off. But it has never been on this scale before. At this rate the whole village is going to be flooded.”
The family briefly returned to their home last weekend and again on Thursday.
For the time being, the house is dry. But the rain continues to fall, with no end seemingly in sight, and the murky water continues to advance.
“With all the rain we are having, it is almost certainly going to flood,” Katherine said.
“There are still people living in Moorland – it is not deserted by any means, but they feel as though they have been deserted.”
As flood waters steadily rose, they methodically went about moving valuables and treasured possessions upstairs and tried to flood proof their home as best they could. But even as the situation reached crisis point, with the Environment Agency issuing a “threat to life” warning for the village, reliable information was scarce.
Throughout the crisis, Katherine said, they had had to fight for information. In some cases they knew more than officials on the ground.
In the early hours of February 7, Katherine described how a firefighter had knocked on their door saying they had to “get out now”.
“We asked him what had changed,” she said. “He didn’t know. The situation was bad enough and all we could think was that the river bank had collapsed or the flood defences had gone. We didn’t really have enough information to make an informed decision but we decided that we ought to leave.
“We were given an hour to pack, raised the furniture as high as we could and sandbagged the front door.”
Theirs was among the last of the non-emergency vehicles to make it through the flood water and out of the village. They arrived at Katherine’s grandmother’s house at 5am. While their temporary accommodation won’t flood, the fate of her parents’ home is an ever present concern. Jeremy and Caroline quickly look skywards when helicopters fly overhead, are unnerved by alarms, and remotely move valuables out of harm’s way, even though there is no threat. The stress and strain is beginning to tell.
“It feels like it has been going on forever, but it hasn’t been that long,” Katherine said. “Obviously, it affects absolutely everything.
“Everyone is terribly upset and the other day I couldn’t stop crying. Now we feel as though we just have to deal with what has been put in front of us.”
As the national media spotlight has swung on to the River Thames, Katherine said she was speaking out to make sure the Somerset Levels were not forgotten.
She has little faith in the pledges of politicians and the Environment Agency to right the wrongs of the past.
“I think there is a feeling that the Government could have done more, but the blame lies with the Environment Agency because, especially after the flooding last year, the locals wanted them to dredge the rivers and nothing, apart from one test dredge, was done,” she said.
“They also should have done more when the flooding started. They were very, very slow, painfully slow, to get the pumps in and start pumping.
“We still want to live on the Levels and we are hoping that if they get on with the dredging, as they have promised, hopefully we won’t flood again.
“But we have no reason to trust them after what has happened. Our confidence in them has been shattered.”
For now, all the Langfords can do, is watch and wait – watch for the skies to brighten and wait for the water to recede.
“There is nothing we can do now until the water starts going down,” Katherine said.
“We can’t start planning our lives because we just don’t know how bad the flooding is going to be.
“We don’t know whether it will be just the carpets that are wet or whether the water is half-way up the walls. I wonder whether there will be anything left.”