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Traveller families blame Plymouth city council after evacuation from site

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: November 26, 2012

  • Gypsy and travellers site The Ride flooded during the heavy rain

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Traveller families have blamed Plymouth City Council for a devastating flood that forced them out of their homes.

Firefighters using an inflatable boat plucked 11 children and 16 adults to safety as floodwaters overwhelmed their homes at The Ride, near Laira Bridge, late on Saturday.

Water is thought to have poured down the hillsides from Saltram and the neighbouring waste tip.

But the Travellers, many of whom have lived on the site next to the River Plym for a decade or more, said it was the third time in a week that there was flooding on the site.

As they began cleaning up yesterday, they said they had been warning the council for years that the drains in the area were blocked.

Eric Blackburn, 77, who was evacuated with his wife Betty, said: “The council was told. We rang them last week and told them to do the drains.

“We are sick and tired of telling them these drains want sucking.”

Mrs Blackburn said the water was “higher than a man’s waist” when she was rescued by firemen.

She said she had been asking the council to deal with the drains for the past two years. After floods on Thursday and Friday last week, she called them again.

“They promised us faithfully that they would come and fix the drains, but no one came,” she said.

All the carpets in Mrs Blackburn’s mobile home were soaked as the water came in through the door.

She said she feared the flooring would also be ruined, adding: “I can’t pay for it, I’m a pensioner.

“The police moved us because of the contamination. They reckoned the water came off the tip.”

The couple’s son Brian said: “The council won’t do anything for us.

“Plymouth doesn’t care about anyone on this site.”

Many of the 14 families who live at The Ride had left of their own accord before the worst of the floods.

Carl Robson, 38, who lives on the site with his nine-year-old son Brandon, said: “I came back in the middle of the night and everyone had been evacuated. I had to wade through the water to get my dog.”

Mr Robson pointed out streaks of black pollution all around his mobile home, which he believed was oil that had come up through the drains.

Those evacuated were taken in Citybus coaches, initially to the Salvation Army hostel in Devonport. Plymouth City Council later found them temporary accommodation.

Simon Kerr, watch manager at Camels Head, said: “We got to The Ride at about 8.45pm, and it was completely under water.

“The water was up to door level and on the verge of flooding the caravans.

Steve Hill, watch manager at Plymstock, said: “It was a dire situation. The residents were obviously devastated and upset.

“We attempted to pump the water out but quickly realised we were on a losing wicket. The water probably rose by a foot while we were there.

“We were concerned because we didn't know what effect the high tide at 3am would have.”

Electricity to the caravans was switched off by Western Power as the floodwaters rose, and was not reconnected until late yesterday morning.

A council spokeswoman said: “Like any flooding, there is always a risk of contamination of some sort, most often from the sewerage systems.

“We would need to analyse samples before we would be in a position to say what it is. We have had our staff checking the site at Chelson Meadow and there is no evidence to suggest that there has been a failure in the leachate treatment system.”

She said council workers were using gully suckers and jet hoses, adding: “We would hope that people would take sensible precautions which include not allowing young children to play on affected paved or concreted areas, or other contaminated materials from within homes, until they have been cleaned or removed.”

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