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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Forces help out in flooded town
By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News, Tewkesbury

A group of trainee pilots from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury are spending a day helping with the flood clear-up operation in Gloucestershire.

RAF volunteers help with the flood clean-up
Removing some water-damaged possessions was a two-man job

A key part of the recovery process for flood-hit residents is getting back into their houses - and part of that process is removing any items damaged by the flood.

Once a household has been assessed by insurance companies, residents can then register with the council, which comes to collect the rubbish from their homes.

It has been extremely busy - there are 152 bookings for Thursday, and Chris Pike, head of commercial services at the council, admits they will not be able to make all of those, not even with the help of the military.

Having the pilots come in has been a great boost to us in our efforts to help the local community
Chris Pike
Tewkesbury Borough Council

Council workers will be out again during the next two days.

Mr Pike estimates the team of armed forces volunteers will have shifted close to 30 tons by the end of the day.

Teamwork

They are split into two teams, each using a large van to take away fridges, washing machines and other electrical items, and also a "refuse collecting vehicle" (RCV), which will crush other dumped items.

The pilots pile in a slightly less glamorous mode of transport, a minibus, and soon arrive in the Northway area of the town.

Flood-damaged goods being crushed
Non-electrical items were crushed in a Refuse Collecting Vehicle

Half of them get out where council workers and their two vehicles are already hard at work, the remainder going off to begin work elsewhere.

This group's leader, 2nd Lt Nick Sharpe, 24, who is with the Army Air Corps, wastes no time in getting them all to work, once they have donned their high-visibility orange jackets.

He quickly works out which houses are to be cleared, and yells out names and assigns house numbers.

Working hard

Immediately the men get stuck in, picking up soggy wood, carpet, sofas, book cases, fridges, tables and chairs amongst the many piles of items.

People come out of their damaged homes to see all the fuss, and watch as the men start dragging the rubbish, some light pieces of wood, some awkward and bulky electrical appliances that take two of them to lift.

I didn't expect to see men from the forces here
Resident Pamela Padgett

But no matter what they face, they are relentless and never stop for a breather.

Pamela Padgett, 69, pops out of her house as one officer starts carrying away the armchairs from her three-piece suite by himself. The two chat briefly and she is clearly delighted to see her rubbish being removed.

"This is great, I didn't expect to see men from the forces here," she said. "I'm pleased they've made an effort.

"I couldn't have moved it at all by myself, their help is much appreciated."

Happy to help

The armchairs and sofa are fed into the RCV, which gobbles everything up without any trouble, along with shelving units, tables and even a girl's small pink bike, which upsets one of the officers when he discovers it's been crushed.

"But there was nothing wrong with it," he protests.

"It wasn't your colour," someone quips.

Another resident, Mary Robinson, 71, has had her rubbish piled into her back garden. A tide mark is visible throughout her house, betraying to where the flood waters came.

Tewkesbury resident Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson said she could not have moved her rubbish on her own

"It's 100% value having this done," she said.

"You can't get a skip because they're all out, and if you did you'd still have to load it yourself.

"If they weren't doing this I'd be stuck. It took three men to lift my carpet out into the back garden. How would I get rid of it?"

According to 2nd Lt Sharpe, all of the team - 13 officers, one of whom is on exchange from the Qatar Emiri Air Force, and a non-commissioned officer - had been pleased to come and help out Tewkesbury's residents.

"Everyone was happy to do this," he said. "You can see a direct effect on the community through our efforts.

"Doing this work seems like it will impact much more than some of the other schemes available, such as doing gardening in the Shrewsbury area.

"And we get to interact with the community itself, which is a real benefit."





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