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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 06:31 GMT
'Bereavement' of Carlisle victims
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News in Carlisle

When three Cumbrian rivers burst their banks on 7 January, many residents were unprepared for the level of flooding that would engulf parts of the city.

One month on the damage is still clearly visible, from the increased number of contractors in town to the remnants of smelly sludge left behind by the receding water to the hundreds of deserted houses.

The Reverend John Libby, Carlisle St James
What these people are going through is very similar to bereavement
The Reverend John Libby
Carlisle St James

Once the immediate emergency situation was under control, the recovery phase began.

The Carlisle Churches' Flood Response estimated that they gave out 1,800 sausage and bacon butties, 200 sandwiches, 10,000 hot drinks and took 1,000 meals to home - figures that the Reverend John Libby described as "conservative".

The group was formed by 40 Carlisle churches, mustering 400 volunteers working shifts in 10 sites throughout the affected areas, so that "no resident was more than a couple of minutes walk from a hot drink, some food and a sympathetic ear".

Those serving refreshments were not just handy with a kettle but also had a basic qualification in support or counselling.

"What these people are going through is very similar to bereavement. A lot of their memories were wiped out," Mr Libby said.

"Perversely people hold on to electrical goods. When water is lapping at the door they don't think about the photo albums."

Carlisle flood aftermath

While it is estimated that it could be nine months before the residents are back in their houses, Mr Libby says it could be at least twice that long for the psychological recovery.

"Experience has taught us that it could be 18 months later that people still have to be talked into going back, because there is a significant amount of trauma."

He said one family he had spoken to had not been able to sleep since the flood.

"They told me it was like the Titanic sinking. All through the night they could hear noises, the occasional explosion, crashes, and bubbling.

"It was black and all they could hear was water."

He said images of the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia made them consider tunnelling through their roof to escape the water as they waited two days to be rescued.

"Darkness and terror bring back the terror - and that terror is geographically rooted," Mr Libby said.

Clare Edwards of Cumbria Community Foundation
Even if the grants are not a lot, knowing that there is a sympathetic ear, just a little understanding and empathy, is helpful
Clare Edwards
Cumbria Community Foundation

The floods prompted many in the region and beyond to donate to appeals.

The Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund received 540,000 in the first month, and allocated 90,000 to 180 individuals and families, as well as 86,000 to community groups.

As well as large donations from such groups as the city and county councils, individuals were keen to show their support.

"It was very painful but worth it" when one man waxed his legs to raise 435 for the flood victims.

People in Boscastle held a dance to raise money, having been through their own flash flood in August, while others saw similarities with the tsunami.

"I have recently sent money to the Tsunami Fund, but having seen the Carlisle floods on TV, I firmly believe that charity begins at home," said one donor.

Already struggling pensioners have been generous: "It is only 10, but as a pensioner it is all I can manage at this time. I send it with my heartfelt sympathy for all who have suffered in this catastrophe."

Having helped Cumbrians throughout the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, both the churches and the Cumbria Community Foundation, which set up the recovery fund, knew the importance of supporting those in need.

"Even if the grants are not a lot, knowing that there is a sympathetic ear, just a little understanding and empathy is helpful, just to know that someone cares," said Clare Edwards of the fund.

Family suffers flood 'nightmare'
07 Feb 05 |  Cumbria
Flood city loses police station
01 Feb 05 |  Cumbria

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