Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 16:41 UK

Morpeth fights back after floods

By Paul Costello
BBC News

Appeal collector Greta Gradon
An appeal fund has been organised for flood victims

The streets of Morpeth are buzzing with activity as clearing up continues after the worst flooding in Northumberland for 50 years.

Rescue and damage stories can be heard on every corner, while many shops and homes still bear the scars of the weekend's downpour.

More than 1,000 properties were affected, and about 400 people were moved to safety when the River Wansbeck burst its banks on Saturday.

The area experienced one month's rain in just 12 hours.

The river returned to its traditional boundaries on Sunday and the town's residents have since been dealing with the aftermath.

The torrent of water was indiscriminate in the victims it chose, with "closed due to flooding" signs littering the windows of charity shops, restaurants, hairdressers and estate agents.

One store owner, unaffected by the flooding, is reporting a boom in sales of mops and brushes.

Council officials in fluorescent jackets buzz between the businesses, quickly followed by clip-board-carrying insurance assessors.

Carolyn Fisher, 49, owner of Road Runner Sports, is facing up to the possibility of losing three months trade in tough economic times.

Frame shop owner Alan Smith and his partner Debbie Burrell
Shops near the Chantry area were worst affected

She said: "We opened the shop door to a scene of devastation when we returned for the clear-up.

"All the stock and metal racks were pushed up to the front door and the laminate flooring had cracked and buckled.

"The more we cleared the more we realised the extent of the damage.

"The floor was covered in brown sludge and it still really stinks, there must have been sewage in the water."

Alan Smith, 50, owner of Chantry Picture Framing, had just returned from a Greek holiday ruined by illness when the flood hit his riverside business.

"The water was gushing over the chantry wall and it poured into the shop and reached about two-feet high.

"I've got myself a skip and I've cleared all the damaged stock out. Hopefully, I will be up and running by the end of next week.

"I think the shock of all this is still to set in for traders. Like everyone I'm just keen to get back to business."

Gardens and skips on the residential streets near the River Wansbeck are stacked with mattresses, electrical goods and other household items ruined by water.

Eileen and Evelyn Chapman
Many residents are facing months away from their homes

Evelyn Chapman, 82, Challoner's Gardens, escaped the floods on a raft after being carried out of her home by firefighters.

Her bungalow has now been stripped of its waterlogged carpets, furniture and white goods.

"We managed to save my television, DVD and some personal things but it feels like I have lost everything", she said.

"I don't have insurance, so it looks like I will just have to try and save some money up to buy more things.

"My daughter is helping me and it looks like I will be staying at her home for the next few months.

"I remember the floods in the 1960s but it was not as bad as this time round."

As rain begins to fall again on Tuesday thoughts naturally turn to the prospect of further flooding.

However, Mrs Chapman's 49-year-old daughter Eileen responds to the idea of another flood in good humour.

Church elder Robin Cooper and the Reverend Ron Forster
The St George's Church organ was damaged in the flood

"Why worry, she has nothing more to lose," she quips.

St George's United Reformed Church on Bridge Street failed to escape what in insurance terms is described as an act of god.

Congregation members will have to strip out its carpets and the billows of its impressive wind organ have been damaged by the water.

However, the Reverend Ron Forster is remaining positive and believes good has come out of a testing time.

He said: "I think Morpeth is going to be remembered for something good in the national conscience.

"We may fight over car parking charges or whether we want a supermarket in the middle of the town, but we are like a family and we pull together in this sort of situation."

Church elder Robin Cooper has helped organise a flood relief fund, as part of his role as secretary of the Morpeth Lions Club.

Braced under a large umbrella Greta Gradon, 73, stands on a main shopping street collecting for the fund.

She said: "People have been touched by the horrendous effects of this flood and they are giving extremely generous amounts.

"I know one young mother whose house was filled with water and she even put some money in the collection box - it is a fantastic thing."

Crops and animals lost to floods
09 Sep 08 |  England
Floods clean-up operation begins
08 Sep 08 |  England
Morpeth a 'scene of devastation'
07 Sep 08 |  England


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