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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 12:33 GMT
On the floods frontline

Residents of Yalding, in Kent, have been in the frontline of recent severe flooding in the UK.

Many have struggled to get their lives back to normal after the main street was deluged under three feet of water on 13 October.

Since then there have been two further floods, the most recent on Tuesday.

BBC News Online visited the village and asked locals questions that had been submited on e-mail by our readers.

Q: What were residents' initial reactions to finding their homes flooded. (Fatima Qureshy)

No camping sign
It will be a long time until life gets back to normal
For many, the overwhelming reaction can be summed up in one word: "shock".

Flooding is a perennial hazard for a handful of Yalding folk who live close to where the rivers Medway, Teise and Beult meet. But nothing had prepared them for the onslaught of recent weeks.

Seeing the pub that he lives above knee-deep in muddy water left Paul Morris in a state of disbelief.

"I've lived here all my life and I've seen it come up to the front step before, but never as high as that."

Older people though were less taken aback.

Cecil Longley, who has lived in Yalding for all his 78 years, was reminded of 1927, when floodwaters swept through homes on Christmas Day.

"You just take it in your stride and get on with life," said the retired gardener.

Flood meeting sign
The flood meeting was postponed ... because of flooding
Q: What has been the impact on community spirit? Has it brought people closer together? (Stephen Stone)

A: "If anything, it has brought people together," said father of two young children Mark Hoare, whose 18th Century house has been deluged under three feet of water.

Many of Yalding's residents live up the slope of the valley, and so have escaped flooding.

"Whether it's looking after children, washing or ironing," everyone has pitched in to help.

At the George pub, there has been no shortage of helping hands.

"We've had people phoning up and offering to help us all the time - all sorts of things, like helping move stuff upstairs when we got the flood warning," said Paul Morris.

Sweeping up
Sweeping up: Older residents seem less taken aback
Pensioners Sydney and Elsie Rayner, who have lived in the village for 62 years, have needed help in lifting furniture upstairs, taping up electrical sockets, laying sandbags and cleaning up after the water level dropped.

"Everybody has helped. Every time people went by the front window in a boat, they'd call out to us; see if we wanted anything."

Chairman of Yalding Parish Council, Geraldine Brown, said the crisis had brought together both sides of the village, which is split by a bridge over the Beult.

Q: What are people doing with their pets? (Jeanette Horton)

A: At the George, on Benover Road, the floods submerged the beer garden, making life very difficult for everyone, including the German Shepherd and cross-breed owned by landlord's son Paul Morris.

Kelly Murphy
Pet problem: Kelly Murphy takes the dogs for a wet walk
"We've got a flat roof at the back so we put them out there. When it got cold at night, we brought them indoors," said Paul's girlfriend, Kelly Murphy.

"They were very good. You'd think they might be worried, but they just laid there. Took it in their stride."

When Geraldine Brown was evacuated before the first flood, she took her Old English sheepdog with her and stayed overnight at a friend's house.

Q: Do you better appreciate the trauma suffered by flood victims in the Third World? (Sam Ash Dale)

Since the middle of October, Yalding's victims have been preoccupied with the day-to-day work of protecting their homes and possessions from flood damage.

"We are full of empathy for the people in York, Uckfield, Shrewsbury and Worcester. All the other places that have been caught out by this dreadful weather," said Mrs Brown.

Geraldine Brown
Geraldine Brown: 'We are full of empathy for the people in York'
Mark Hoare confessed he had not even thought about flooding in other countries, although he had pondered the issue of global warming, which has been blamed for the severe rainfall of recent weeks.

"It hasn't given me any empathy with the Third World. It just makes me wonder what we are doing to this planet."

Q: How, if at all, can people from outside Yalding help? (Shalom Osdoba)

Generally villagers were happy that insurance companies were quick off the mark after the 13 October flood. But, since then there have been two further floods and they hope insurance companies will not blacklist the area.

Ms Brown says the question of funding for flood defences needs to be urgently discussed. Residents politely declined the offer of help from individuals outside Yalding.

Q: Where do people stay when they have been flooded out of their homes. (Rebecca Steel)

Home
Some residents will not return home for six months
A: Initially, many of the families were evacuated to stay with friends and neighbours outside the danger zone.

Maidstone Borough Council says 64 families have yet to return to their homes. Some, like Peter and Heather Camrass, are not going back in the near future.

Mrs Camrass, who has four young children, spent 10 days sleeping on the floor at a friend's house. The family was recently moved to temporary council accommodation and does not expect to return home until the spring.

Q: Who do you think is responsible? (Jenny Bull)

A: There is some feeling in Yalding that the village was "sacrificed" for nearby Tonbridge - a bigger town. The Environment Agency's decision to open floodgates in Tonbridge, which put Yalding in the direct line of fire, was controversial said Geraldine Brown.

But it's too early to cast blame, she says. An open meeting to discuss issues raised by the October 13 flood was called off on Tuesday, because of more flooding.

"I do feel that the Environment Agency has done the best for us in the circumstances," said Ms Brown.

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | Scotland
Scotland waits as rivers rise
07 Nov 00 | Wales
Pub hit by flood landslide
06 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Minister defends flood defence record
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