Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Cockermouth flood victims take in the clear-up ahead

By Jon Kelly
BBC News, Cockermouth, Cumbria

Alan Kennon, Joanna Hadfield, Geoff Jones
Despite the devastation, flood victims say there is community spirit

First came the devastating floods, bringing panic and fear as water swept through homes and businesses.

Then, as the water subsided, came shock at the scale of the damage.

Now, for the people of Cockermouth, realisation is beginning to sink in of the sheer amount of effort it will take to repair their town.

A cursory glance down the once-bustling Main Street says it all. Debris is still scattered across the road while furniture and shop fittings pile up on pavements and in skips.

Long slog

With a mixture of resignation and acceptance, homeowners and shopkeepers sweep mud from their floors and carry their ruined possessions out for disposal.

But this is only the beginning.

Police have warned that it could take years for the community to return to normal, and with over 1,000 homes affected, insurers are braced for claims totalling more than £100m from the worst-hit areas in Cumbria and the south of Scotland.

Here in Cockermouth, Geoff Jones, a 52-year-old shift team leader at the nearby Sellafield nuclear power station, is among those facing up to the long slog ahead.

You've got to fit it in around your normal life, right through the middle of winter and Christmas
Geoff Jones

When the floods came, he was trapped on the first floor of his house as water levels below reached 5ft (1.5m). Geoff admits he was terrified.

He recalls: "It got up to the first landing on the stairs, and then I thought, 'Well, I can't get out.'

"I got rescued out of here on Friday afternoon with the mountain rescue and lifeboat. Hanging out the front window. It was pretty scary."

Geoff reckons the initial aftermath - sodden floors, wrecked furniture, scattered possessions - was a bigger shock for his wife, who was away from home during the flood itself ("You know that women are quite house proud," he murmurs).

'No Christmas here'

"There's a lot of hard work ahead," he sighs. "Obviously you've got to juggle it around work as well. Work have been really good with me, they've given me time off to get things sorted.

"But you've got to fit it in around your normal life, right through the middle of winter and Christmas.

There's no point dwelling on it or feeling sorry for yourself. You just have to get on with it
Nikki Heal

"We'd like to sit back and relax. But obviously there will be no Christmas here."

Owners of small businesses in the town have little choice other than to be equally stoic.

Optician Nikki Heal, 40, whose practice has been run by her family since 1935, smiles ruefully as she contemplates the task ahead.

"We've lost 80% of our frame stock, all our computers, all our testing equipment, all of our records," she says.

"What it means for us is the same as what it means for everyone else - a lot of work in the next few months.

"There's no point dwelling on it or feeling sorry for yourself. You just have to get on with it."

But not everyone is gloomy. Taxi driver Alan Kennon, 53, saw the ground floor of his house submerged.

But the solidarity and sense of community displayed by people in Cockermouth and the surrounding area has left him feeling cheerful.

'Everybody's pulling together'

Outside his front door - bedecked with a pair of Union flags - Alan stands upright and evokes the spirit of the blitz.

"There's people in soup kitchens and people offering their properties everywhere," he says. "Once somebody's got their own cleaned up they're moving on to giving someone else a hand.

"It's just brilliant. I wasn't here during the war, but it must be similar to the war effort."

Joanna Hadfield, a 50-year-old teacher, agrees. For the past three days she has been wheeling a shopping trolley through the worst-hit streets, handing out hot drinks and food on behalf of the group Churches Together in Cumbria.

"Everybody's donating things, people are baking at home, they're making soup, they're sending food down," Joanna says. "Everybody's pulling together in this."

But she knows once power returns to every home and the immediate emergency is brought under control, the volunteers' efforts will be needed just as much.

"The people in the Main Street, they're going to find it very difficult getting their businesses back up and running," she warns. "Some of them have been told it's going to be 12 months.

"Hopefully, everyone will keep pulling together to help them and they'll all reopen."

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