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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 December 2007, 14:10 GMT
Christmas marred by flood damage
Nick Garnett
BBC News

Toll Bar floods
The environment agency says that quick fixes are not the answer
Hundreds of families are spending Christmas Day in temporary housing six months after floods across parts of Britain ruined their homes.

At Toll Bar in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Patrick and Lisa Slack have had to move into a caravan on a purpose-built site along with nearly 50 other families.

With three young children space has been at a premium and Lisa says they have had to buy smaller presents for the Jack, four, Alfie, two and Harry who is one.

"It's been too small in the caravan - we've got three bedrooms and a bathroom and there are five of us.

"We've had to buy smaller presents for the children. Alfie got a bike but he's having to leave it at his grandparents' because there's simply not enough room here."

No insurance

The children were up at six o'clock this morning to open their presents.

Patrick Slack says the whole family has pulled together but it's placed a huge strain on the couple.

"It's a very stressful time. Everyone's been helping each other out but we're not going to be back into our home until the summer because they're waiting for the walls to dry out. They've taken all the flooring up.

"We weren't insured so we've got to pay for everything ourselves and I'm having to do two jobs to pay for everything. We're worried it could all happen again."

That fear is echoed by Pam Sutton who lives nearby.

She owns her home and did not want to move away while repairs were carried out so she sleeps upstairs in the unheated house and spends her days in a small caravan parked in the garden outside.

What are the Environment Agency doing to prevent this happening again?
Pam Sutton

Inside her home, where the Christmas Tree usually stands, a pile of presents lies on the concrete floor.

Her home has started to be rebuilt - last week the plasterers moved in but with no heating in the property it will take a while before the plaster dries.

She is worried about the risks of floods hitting Toll Bar and other affected areas again.

"What are the Environment Agency doing to prevent this happening again? We are told they're carrying out an 18-month long review of flood defences but it's just not good enough.

"They need contingency plans to put in place now if there's any threat of this happening again."

Long-term strategy

The Environment Agency says that quick fixes are not the answer.

Peter Holmes, the area flood risk manager for South Yorkshire, thinks a long-term approach needs to be taken.

"We need to make sure we get the right answer to tackle the flood risk at Toll Bar and we can only do this by considering the whole river catchment rather than individual communities," he said.

"What we do in one location to reduce flood risk could have a major effect on another.

"We are working on a strategy to fully understand what options are suitable. It will take about 18 months to complete.

I think there are underlying stress issues that may not come out for two or three years
Martin Winter, mayor of Doncaster

"One of the options we will consider will be to raise the banks of nearby rivers, but we're also looking at alternative flood water storage areas."

The mayor of Doncaster, Martin Winter, meanwhile says he is concerned that other problems may develop in the future.

He is contacting NHS primary care trusts in the area to ask them to keep track of any rise in the incidents of stress related illnesses in the wake of the floods.

"The Toll Bar community is a passionate and tight knit community but I think there are underlying stress issues that may not come out for two or three years.

"So we have to work with GPs to keep an eye on stress levels and mental health issues as a result of the flood."

The caravan park is covered in Christmas decorations.

Although the site has been purpose built, the plots of land do not have postcodes yet which has meant a headache for Royal Mail.

Luckily for Jack, Alfie and Harry Slack and the dozens of other children living in their caravans, Father Christmas knew where to bring his reindeer.

Festivities marred by flood grief
25 Dec 07 |  South Yorkshire

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