Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Sunday, 20 July 2008 16:16 UK

The legacy of Tewkesbury's floods

By Kirsty Gardner
BBC News, Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury underwater
The abbey became an island in the floods, which killed three people

The stacked clouds overhead looked ominously as though they would empty on the Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury as its inhabitants tried to put last year's floods behind them.

But at the key moment as hundreds of people formed a ring around the abbey, the sun broke through much to the relief of the organisers.

Tewkesbury is used to flooding. The town is surrounded by hundreds of acres of meadows which are regularly inundated by the River Severn and enriched by the nutrients carried in its waters.

The flooding of summer 2007 was on a different scale. Much of the town itself was under stinking brown water. Three people died.

The abbey became an island as the flood lapped at its ancient doors.

Eight-hundred-and-fifty families were forced into caravans as their homes were repaired and some are still not back in 12 months later.

The fact the town has not entirely recovered has led some living locally to criticise the celebrations.

It's very important for the whole town because it falls into two parts - those who were flooded and those who weren't
Mike Kean-Price,
Tewkesbury town crier

One woman clutching a cup of tea outsider her house as people streamed uphill towards the abbey muttered: "I hope it rains on Tewkesbury's biggest party."

She wasn't alone - other passers-by complained not enough had been done to prevent a similar flood and questioned how the money had been spent.

Despite the misgivings of some there was a distinct carnival atmosphere in town.

The abbey was packed for a special service to mark the anniversary and then the congregation streamed outside to link hands or wave at the helicopter circling overhead trying to capture the moment.

In amongst them were people who had suffered so much last year, people had lost friends or precious mementoes of loved ones reduced to a pulp.

As the helicopter flew out of view a juggler amused the children while an entertainer on stilts strode through the streets dressed as a policeman and sucking on an enormous pipe.

Residents held hands around the abbey
Hundreds of people held hands and formed a ring around the abbey

Then some families settled down for a picnic lunch in the sunshine while others strolled off through the town, some to a street party near where residents who had lived through the winter in mobile homes were marking the anniversary.

Tewkesbury town crier Mike Kean-Price, dressed from head to toe in his red and gold regalia and carrying an enormous brass bell, said the events marking the first anniversary were essential so that everyone could move on.

"It's very important for the whole town because it falls into two parts - those who were flooded and those who weren't - and those of us who weren't flooded feel terribly badly and there had to come a point when we let it go."

For some the celebrations will indeed have been a chance to let the memories of the last year go but for many of those worst affected it will be a nightmarish legacy for years to come.

Service marks floods anniversary
20 Jul 08 |  Gloucestershire

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