RESIDENTS and businesses have begun to count the cost of the weekend’s torrential rain and floods.
Following the Met Office’s warnings during Friday, Saturday morning saw Ivybridge, Yealmpton and Modbury hit worst, while there was also localised flooding in and around Plymouth with a number of roads closed to traffic and transport services disrupted.
Around a month’s average rainfall fell between Friday and Saturday lunchtime.
All three emergency services worked in concert as they were called upon to help rescue residents from rising waters.
The River Yealm burst its banks at Yealmbridge and Yealmpton, with properties around Torr Hill bridge among the worst affected.
Other parts of Devon were also hit by flooding – causing delays on roads and rail services – and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman visited Ottery St Mary to highlight investment in flood defences.
Devon and Cornwall Police opened a ‘command room’ on Friday evening and liaised with staff from Devon and Somerset Fire Service, the Environment Agency, the Met Office and local councils.
Acting Sgt Ryan Canning was one of the very first at the scene in Yealmpton and took on the role of major incident commander, remaining at the location until 11am on Saturday.
He said: “We had been keeping a check on the Yealm throughout the night and by 4am on Saturday there was a significant rise.
“The water began to rise so rapidly that we began the evacuation of properties.”
Plympton-based response officers started by evacuating four properties around Torr Bridge.
But as the fast-flowing river continued to rise, more homes were assessed as at risk and fire crews were called upon to help, along with volunteers from the Dartmoor Search and Rescue (DSR) teams from Ashburton and Plymouth.
Acting Sgt Canning took on the role of incident commander and co-ordinated the fire service and DSR teams.
The teams deployed specially trained and equipped “swift water technicians” to go house to house searching for residents.
Acting Sgt Canning said: “We needed to check a large number of properties very quickly. One place had a small family car outside and the water was lapping around its roof. Another place had around 5ft of water at around 5am.
“Around 24 properties were checked with about 50 occupants.
“Despite their downstairs being flooded, most residents wanted to stay put and remain in their upper floors.
“We had to isolate the power and gas supply to those houses.
“As long as they were contactable, medically fit and not vulnerable, we were content to let them remain in their homes. Some were understandably very upset at the damage being caused to their homes but others were quite resilient.
“They did not panic in any way and dealt with the circumstances admirably.
“We called upon the principal structural engineer from Devon County Council to examine the four bridges in the area – Torr bridge, Yealm bridge, a bridge by the Fleet estate and Puslinch bridge.”
All four were closed for a number of hours but by the late morning all but Puslinch bridge was reopened to traffic.
Council workers marked off parts of the bridge where stonework had collapsed under the pressure of the water flow.
Acting Sgt Canning said: “In light of what happened last year in Cumbria, and the unprecedented weight of water, we thought it best to close the bridges until they could be properly assessed.”
Rob Illman, team leader of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton said around 14 volunteers offered their skills to the emergency services at Yealmpton.
He said: “Our swift water trained technicians worked alongside the fire service experts.
“The teams wore dry suits, buoyancy aids and gloves to protect them from contamination.
“Flood waters can contain all manner of things, including sewerage, and the teams have to take precautions, such as working in pairs.
“If you fall in fast-flowing water like we saw at Yealmpton, your survival time can go down to just two minutes as you are buffeted along the river being struck by floating items.”
The teams took part in the search of a number of properties which had to be carried out under the pressure of rising water.
Fortunately, the task was completed and as the rain slowed, the river level slowly but steadily dropped, allowing much of the area to be opened up again to residents by noon on Saturday.
Mr Illman said: “Fortunately, everybody’s fine. We lifted two people out in a boat, but most stayed in their homes.
“I imagine many of these people will be devastated at what’s happened and in the next few days the full picture of damage will emerge.”
Modbury’s Broad Street was closed after a stretch was submerged by 2ft deep water.
The centre of Ivybridge also flooded with paths and streets impassable.
In Plymouth Wolseley Road was closed due to floods while the Parkway itself suffered large patches of surface water.
Hazardous driving conditions were also reported on the A38 between Marsh Mills Roundabout and the A3121 junction while the A3072 in Bickleigh was blocked for much of Saturday morning in both directions at the Bickleigh Bridge junction due of flooding.
FLASH FLOODS TURN LIVES UPSIDE DOWN
NEIGHBOURS in one of the worst-hit areas told how the flash floods turned their lives upside down over the weekend.
Elaine Doran, aged 58, and her husband Martin, of Mill Leat Close in flood-soaked Yealmpton, were woken in the early hours of Saturday by an automated emergency call from the Environment Agency.
She said: “We get flood alerts down here – they went off at 3.30am. The actual river didn’t burst over the flood bank until 6.15am because of the flood bank which was built to protect the properties.
“We’ve been here about 11 years and it’s the first time the bank has gone. All our downstairs went completely under.
“We managed to get as much upstairs as we could, but it came in so fast.
“You just go into automatic pilot mode. You have just minutes to go ‘Right, what’s in these drawers, where’s the electrical stuff, what else can we take upstairs.’
“You just try and move as quickly as possible
“At one point I was up to my waist downstairs and then started to feel really cold. I knew I had to stop, so I went back upstairs, dried off and put some dry clothes on.
“In the morning I did eventually find my wellies – they were downstairs and full of water.
“I was upstairs most of Saturday – looking down the stairs seeing all the water, well it was pretty awful.”
Elaine said she and her husband cracked on with clearing the house of mud and slurry throughout Sunday.
While others were watching Wimbledon, they and helpful friends were stripping out carpets, opening windows and trying to stay positive.
She said: “The clean-up has got to be done and it’s better to get on with it quickly. We’ve had great friends helping us. Some neighbours have moved out, having tried to do what they could. Some are pretty devastated and are just waiting for the insurance to go through.
“Tomorrow will be another day and then we’ll sit down and assess it properly. But our priority this weekend was to just get rid of the mud and debris and we’ve still got a roof over our heads.”
One of Elaine’s neighbours was more fortunate.
Mill Leat Close resident Louise Dunn, aged 48, escaped damage to her home – but her family were not so lucky.
She said: “Fortunately our house is fine. We own one of the newer properties and part of the regulations mean we had to build it above the one-in-100 year flood plain.
“But our daughter’s car was submerged. We found her little Citroen C1 with its boot submerged and back seat underwater.
“We’ve no idea if we can get it working. We’ll leave it to dry out for a couple of days.
“The flood defence bank had always held the waters back before. But the rise in water level which would normally take four hours took just one hour and it was up and over so quickly.
“The emergency services weren’t even aware we were here at first – this is a private road and it appears we weren’t on anyone’s list. We had to go up to them and say there’s a group of us down this road with flooding.”
The family were also alerted to the worsening situation by an automated call at 4am on Saturday.
“All you can do is move your possessions, then we went to move all the cars. We took our two sons’ cars up the road and brought our daughters’ car up to the drive. If they hadn’t have been moved they would’ve all been underwater.
“Fortunately no-one in the town was hurt. Even the guinea pigs next door were rescued.
“As long as you’re safe, that’s the main thing – the rest can be replaced.”
CHARITY PRAISES KINDNESS OF RESIDENTS AFTER FLOODS
A CHARITY has praised the kindness of residents following the weekend’s floods.
Robert Parsons, director at St Luke’s hospice, said the Modbury shop in Broad Street, Modbury was “completely flooded” with some parts under four feet of water by the early hours of Saturday.
As volunteers arrived at the scene, they were devastated to find the majority of the stock was ruined.
Robert said: “Around 80 per cent of the stock has been lost. The building itself is insured, but the stock is uninsurable. It’s what provides St Luke’s hospice funds to keep operating.
“The local community and shopkeepers have been fantastic. They rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in. They spent much of Saturday shovelling mud, making human chains to carry out rubbish to two skips outside.”
The shop is now desperate for new stock and is appealing for people to donate. Robert said: “ We would appeal to anyone who is thinking of clearing out items from their homes to consider the shop.”
WET WEATHER COULD BE HERE TO STAY
ANYONE holding out for a hot summer may be disappointed – this year looks set to be a washout.
Forecasters have warned the unsettled weather of recent weeks could well be here to stay.
The news comes after Plymouth and surrounding areas were hit by some of the country’s heaviest rainfall over the weekend.
Around a month’s rain fell over the city within 24 hours – 38mm from 10am on Friday.
Nick Prebble, Meteo Group forecaster, said: “Unfortunately there will be no sudden summer.
“There’s no real change over the next couple of weeks or so. We are still expecting a continuation of a few weather systems coming in, giving more rain and showers.
“We may have some brighter days but there is no real indications of long, hot prolonged periods.”
Met Office forecasts are no more positive.
Helen Chivers, Met Office forecaster, said: “There is no sign of a hot sunny summer on the horizon. There is no prolonged period of sunny weather heading our way for a lengthy period of time.
“We will see a continuation of the unsettled weather we have had.
“It looks like a traditionally British mixture of weather for the next 30 days.”
Met Office forecasts for the South West for the next 30 days state there will be “below average sunshine amounts”, with mean daytime temperatures about four times more likely to be below average than above.
Rainfall in the south is extremely uncertain, though very wet conditions are more likely than very dry.