Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Flooding

Back in the relative safety of Somerset it is hard not to think of all those people, many of them friends and neighbors, who have had water pass through their homes in the past several days.

In Chipping Campden we experienced one type of flood - the sort that comes literally down the hillside, rises rapidly through homes and leaves almost as quickly. The devastation that this type of "upland" flood causes is terrible but at least something can be done when the sun comes out, as it did yesterday.

In the major river valleys of the Severn, Avon and Thames, the story is a very different one. Here the water level rises almost imperceptibly, perhaps as fast as an inch per hour (as is the case in Oxford at the moment). There is plenty of time to prepare, it would seem, but in fact it is very difficult to prepare for this type of flood. The mind keeps saying "it can't rise any more" while the eyes tell otherwise, with the result that little is done to stem the flow. Besides, no amount of sand-bagging and other flood defences will guarantee a lack of flooding inside a home - water will always find the weak spot. Once inundated, a river bank town suffers days of flooding. Curfews prevent homeowners from going near their homes and possessions. This is so much more frustrating for the casualties than the upland type of flood.

I am appalled by the lack of action by the political leaders in the UK. There is no UK equivalent of the US FEMA as far as I can tell and local government seems to be the only aspect of public support that can be offered to the people (which seems fair enough until you realize that local government is strapped for funding because property taxes apparently go to the treasury and are then apportioned back to the districts on what London says is a fair distribution - I will stand to be corrected on this last statement as it emanated from pub talk).

Other than neighbor supporting neighbor, there appears to be no Salvation Army or other emergency relief agency, capable of bringing resources to bear.

Of course, the British are known for their stoicism. One good friend of ours, an 80+ year old widow, absolutely refuses to move out of her two story home even though the ground floor was inundated with 4 inches of water. Neighbors help neighbors, good humor usually prevails.

But not when visiting tourists think it is right and proper to photograph piles of sodden furniture and belongings stacked outside homes, to stare through open windows, to drive slowly past pointing and snapping as they go. We are not going to post any photos we took (all of our own damage, I might say, for insurance purposes) and we wish that sites like the BBC would stop asking for photos to be submitted for public display. That is "rubber necking" internet style, if you were to ask me.