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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Flood homes 'need time and patience'
By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News website

In Hull alone, more than 16,000 homes fell foul of the flood waters which struck in June. What problems lie ahead for exiled residents returning to their water-damaged properties?

Thousands of people were evacuated during last month's floods and many have still not been able to return home.

Flood debris
The clean-up operation begins in Toll Bar, near Doncaster

And even if the water has drained away, families face a long wait before any sense of normality can return.

Jane Parsley knows better than most what lies ahead for the latest flood victims.

The mother-of-three has been flooded, not once but twice, out of her home in Stamford Bridge, North Yorkshire. The first time was in 1998 and she was certainly not ready for it.

'Like a refugee'

"My husband woke me up in the middle of the night and said we better go downstairs," she said. "I found myself thigh-deep in freezing water with dead rats and birds.

"We left in an inflatable boat with our baby daughter, cat and a few clothes. I felt like a refugee."

They were able to return two weeks later - they spent the first week with relatives and the second in a caravan in a friend's garden - but nothing was salvageable.

"The most shocking thing for us was returning home," she said. "It's absolutely devastating - everything you take for granted and work hard for just gone in one fell swoop."

She remembers feeling "shell-shocked" and the family was forced to live upstairs for seven months while their home was "put back together".

The one good thing to come out of it was a stronger community
Flood victim Jane Parsley

Walls were replastered, new floorboards put down, electrics rewired...the to-do list was endless and builders were in demand.

"We were in darkness and it was freezing cold," she said. "It was a long, long procedure to get back to normal."

The second flood in 2000 was still a "terrible time" but at least there had been more of a warning and the Parsleys had learned from the first flood.

They had the electrics rewired to shoulder height and put down a concrete floor, saving them a bit of heartache second time around.

Although Stamford Bridge now has flood defences, Mrs Parsley's heart skipped a beat a few weeks ago when water from the nearby River Derwent rushed up to their door - the pumps had not been turned on because resources were being directed to the worst-hit areas such as Sheffield and Doncaster.

She had these words of comfort for the latest victims: "It does end eventually and it does become a distant memory. And the one good thing to come out of it was a stronger community."

'Cowboys'

Gordon Masterton, a structural expert from the Institution of Civil Engineers, said the latest victims needed to have "patience" and give their homes plenty of time to dry-out.

He outlined the three main problems:

  • Soaking floorboards, external and internal walls
  • Muck and excrement
  • Electrics

He said even if a house had damp-proofing, it would have been useless against the June floods.

"The damp-proofing course will have been well and truly breached and water will have soaked into the fabric of the building," he said.

"You can use a hot air blower or dehumidifier but it will still take months rather than weeks to properly dry out."

Flood-hit residents
Residents have needed to force their way back home

And when a sewage system overflows in a time of flood, he said floorboards will need to be lifted and the area cleaned with a high-pressure hose.

Mr Masterton said the "health risks" associated with damp, unhygienic conditions means families may not be able to return while work was being carried out.

"It's all about time and if you try to redecorate too soon, the moisture will continue to come out and destroy all the good work," he said.

And he had this word of warning for homeowners: "Make sure you employ good quality tradesmen and do not rush in with a cowboy builder."

But it is not all doom and gloom.

Mr Masterton said in most cases, there would be no long term structural problems, such as cracking or subsidence.

He said: "Structural damage tends to happen with more significant long term changes to the water table rather than short term changes such as flash floods."




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