Page last updated at 19:51 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Cumbria floods upturn gardens, streets and lives

Parts of Cumbria battered by floods during last week's torrential downpours saw bridges collapse, roads closed and hundreds made homeless.

Here, BBC reporters reflect on the mood among residents and consider what will surely be a long and slow recovery.


The clean-up of Cockermouth is a daunting task.

Boots store in Cockermouth devastated by the floods
Boots was just one of dozens of stores where stock was ruined

The floodwaters have gone, but their legacy can be seen all over the town.

The shops on Main Street are gutted. The restaurant on the corner is virtually unrecognisable and all the stock in the health food shop is condemned.

At the shoe shop at number 29, the owner Andrew Marshall had to force the door in today, only to find boots and sandals all over the place and everything completely ruined.

But he was being stoical about it all, saying: "It's chaos. I had to bash the door open to get in. It's come up to about five feet of water in here, pretty well all the shoes are wrecked, and now it's just about getting it back together and getting open again.

"We're going to survive and keep going. A bit of water's not going to stop me."

Around the corner, Sarah McGlinn-Shaw was back home in her semi-detached house, but didn't know where to turn first.

The insurers haven't called yet and the house is completely uninhabitable. The kitchen floor is covered in mud, the wallpaper is peeling off, and there's floodwater in all the drawers.

We're on day four and we still don't have a loss adjuster
Sarah McGlinn-Shaw, homeowner

She stood in the middle of it all, describing the scene: "I've got rotting clothes, rotting food in the fridge and in the freezer, all the hats, gloves, cricket equipment, shoes. There are sandals floating all over the house."

Sarah isn't able to start dealing with the mess until her insurers have paid a visit, and she is becoming frustrated during the wait.

"The one thing that's been impressed upon me most is that you need a good insurance company. We're on day four and we still don't have a loss adjuster."

Across Cockermouth it's the same story. Some 900 home and business owners were confronted with similar scenes today, and whilst many were glad to be able to see the damage at first hand, there was a growing realisation that this mess won't be resolved soon.

Cumbria's chief constable has warned that it will take years - and it's estimated the bill will run into many millions of pounds.

Calva Bridge in Workington
There are fears Workington's Calva Bridge could collapse

At the barrier which stops traffic from driving across the Calva Bridge, cars and lorries turn up every few minutes, directed by their satellite navigation system, unaware that the road is closed.

They have to carry out three-point turns, which is not so easy for a HGV on a small road.

This afternoon the media was allowed a little further towards the bridge to see the extent of the damage to it and the homes that back on to the river.

Gardens have been washed away, fencing no longer exists and paving stones have been upturned.

Chickens run around freely - no one is quite sure which house they belong to.

Walking back up the road, I see two men coming out of the flats which were flooded out.

One is carrying a small suitcase, the other a cage containing two yellow budgerigars.

Cockermouth high street
Christmas in Cockermouth will not be the same this year

Earlier I visited a place I've gone to before in times of flooding, in Burneside just outside Kendal.

The small rented cottage is right by the river and I remember a resigned mother pointing to a place on the riverbank and saying: "When the water reaches there, we take the children's toys upstairs."

She wasn't there - none of the residents were, just tradesmen making the electricity safe.

I was told they were all staying elsewhere for the time being - something so many people will face.

Even this house, a regular victim, had only been two or three feet high in water - nothing like Cockermouth.

I was there on Saturday and Main Street, with its bedraggled Christmas tree, stays in your mind.

Next stop, a drop-in centre in Ambleside where advice can be had for those in need.

The local government minister Lord McKenzie will be there - after Gordon Brown, at a news conference on Saturday, promised a steady flow of ministers to see what was needed. I hope they don't get in the way.

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