December 2015 – UNITED KINGDOM – It was the day the floodwaters inexorably advanced across the Pennines, leaving much of the north of England sodden and beleaguered. From Greater Manchester in the north-west to parts of North Yorkshire some 50 miles to the east, Boxing Day 2015 will be remembered as the day the rains came. In Todmorden, in West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, Rebecca Marshall was last night facing the grim prospect of having to abandon her home as the floodwaters slowly rose around her house. The incessant rains had left the little town cut off after all the roads in and out were flooded. By late afternoon the waters were “inches” from the top of the local defence wall and Marshall was stuck inside her home without electricity. Then floodwaters started to rise through her floorboards. “At the moment in our house it’s ankle-deep,” she said.
“There’s about three feet of water outside our door. With no electricity we will have to move out. However, I don’t think we can get out of the town. All the roads in and out of Todmorden have been closed. Fortunately we have had friends and family turn up from all over the place offering to help.” It was the same disturbing picture in towns and villages across Lancashire and Yorkshire. More than 300 flood alerts were put in place across the country, including 15 at the most severe level while the Met Office issued two of its most serious red weather warnings – danger to life – for the area. The storms – which brought almost a month’s precipitation in a single day in some places – were expected to die down early today, the Met Office said, with the band of rain that affected north England yesterday moving slowly south.
However, the rain will later head back north again, while tomorrow bands of wet weather will move in from the east. Conditions are expected to remain unsettled for the rest of the week. In Mytholmroyd, in West Yorkshire, the town centre was completely under water yesterday, with residents facing the prospect of experiencing further rises in floodwaters as the downpours continue. Helen McGarry, who lives near the worst affected area of the town, said this was the first time the river had come up to her house’s back steps. “I’ve never seen it this bad, ever,” she said. Emergency services gathered in the town and a search-and-rescue helicopter circled overhead. Vehicles left in car parks were almost entirely covered by the floodwater, which lapped against the lower windows of houses, pubs and shops. A bus stop sign could barely be seen above the water.
A couple of miles away, a row of bungalows next to the river and the Rochdale Canal had been flooded, and the Luddendenfoot bowling club was also under water. Sirens could be heard throughout the day as emergency vehicles tried to make their way through flooded roads. Country lanes were turned into streams as torrents of water poured off the hillsides and fields. The region had been in somber mood since early December, when Storm Desmond triggered widespread flooding, with Cumbria the worst affected. Last week soldiers spent the festivities working to secure towns and villages across the region and erecting barriers. Residents braced themselves for further flooding as the wettest December since records began continued to deluge the region. Sandbags have become a common sight across Cumbria and an estimated 700 Environment Agency staff have been in position waiting for the worst of the weekend’s storm to hit.
With fields and fells already saturated after more than four times the average monthly rainfall falling within the first three weeks of December, there was nowhere left to absorb the rainfall which has cascaded from fields into streams and rivers. Flooding was inevitable and by yesterday morning the first warnings were issued. The Environment Agency said that, in anticipation of the floods, 85% of the country’s temporary flood barriers had been sent to Cumbria, where rainfall had smashed records earlier this month and where yesterday’s storm was expected to hit.
However, the deluge was unleashed slightly to the south. “Lancashire is experiencing the rainfall expected in Cumbria and a further 50 mm to 80 mm may fall in the next six to nine hours,” police said. Yesterday the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, which had been helping communities in Cumbria on Christmas Eve, moved to Lancashire to help evacuate residents.