PART TWO: 7 DECEMBER
My first photo of my parents’ house isn’t particularly impressive. Untidy but normal, you will probably think, looking at this. But my parents are not untidy and the curtains are not normally stuffed into a canoe dry bag to keep them dry. You can also see the start of the clear up: a fold away table to put things on; a rug I brought from home to generate some more dry space; boxes and bin liners starting to appear.
This room is the one living room; it’s got the sitting area, dining table and kitchen in it. Leading off from there, is a hallway which is now a fire hazard because of the wires we are trailing through it to run de-humidifiers. Beyond that is their bedroom, where there’s lots of damage because the water came above the lowest point of the mattress so the beds, and everything on them, are wet.
The table legs also show the dirt left by the flood. This picture shows the point where water first entered the house. It didn’t come through the door or the vents or the drains nor did it try anything as impressive as smashing the big front window. It simply came through the wall at the point middle left in this photograph. The good news is that the wall seems to have filtered any dirt and debris out of the water. So the carpet is like walking over a bog, but nothing is particularly dirty, just a white film that will clean off easily… but stinks.
We daren’t touch the downstairs plugs in case we blow the ones upstairs, which are working OK. Unfortunately their house only has half an upstairs, but even that makes a lot of difference compared to the bungalow next door.
We have electricity! This seems like a minor miracle. But we daren’t touch the sockets that got wet. There is water that we can’t drink but the toilet works fine. We don’t go anywhere near the gas.
I learn a little more about the day it happened. They live about 100m from the Kent at a point where there are no defences at all, but apparently the main problem was that a reservoir about a mile upstream burst, which is why the water came up so quickly. They managed to move a few personal things but couldn’t pick up anything heavy. The mountain rescue had come round before the flooding and offered to evacuate them but they refused. They lasted till it was about knee height, but my Mum is short and very light and they realised when it got a bit higher that if they didn’t leave then, she’d be swimming. So they went and were lucky to have friends who could put them up. Others in the same road stayed put because the river goes down very quickly too; and they were fine after a few hours.
Outside it just looks a bit muddy but the flags in the yard outside are cracked and lifted where a culvert runs underneath.
The sandbags were pointless.
Today I move most of their books (there are many) into the car and up to a friend’s house, two full car loads; Mum and Dad clear up and move things around as best they can. We manage to get 3 dehumidifiers in, and I move upstairs any furniture I can carry by myself. My parents can’t really help with heavy lifting, although they did manage to get a few chairs up onto higher ground like beds and the sofa before they left.
Lunch is soup and sandwiches provided by the local church for flood victims. Two people come in who look completely shell shocked. The upsetting things are the personal items, the food bought for Christmas, the presents. My Mum is an amateur artist and every single piece of artwork she's done is now wet and in tissue paper to try to dry it out. Their stereo system is 35 years old and appears to be fine; but the wires are wet.
The wine is fine! And now looks like an expensive bottle dragged out of a French cellar
The freezer is still running and the food in it is fine; likewise the fridge, working fine even though I opened it and took out about 8 inches of water from the bottom! My Mum won’t touch any of it so I inherit a lot of food that will need a careful wash. And the number of small things to move is remarkable… all those bottles of cleaning fluid add up to a lot of cash value – they’re fine to use but need storing elsewhere. Cutlery, plates, books, photographs, endless things to move and move again.
In terms of insurance, they have their own contents insurance with Insurer A, but their house is leasehold, in common with the others in the courtyard where they live. The buildings policy is held centrally. We’ve been told we won’t get a loss adjustor in for over a week, which is unhelpful because no-one knows whether to clean up or not clean up so he can see the evidence; and the people with nowhere to stay have to choose whether or not to risk paying for a hotel room. Where to spend Christmas? Easy for my parents to come to my place but for others this must be a tough question, probably with ruined presents and food too. Everyone around is worried about money, what will be paid, what won’t, what if we have to pay ourselves and have no money left? So tough to think about replacing the food and the presents. Trying to contact insurers is a pain. The phone rings forever (we don’t get through today) and we have a choice between sitting and waiting for them to answer or cleaning something up. We have no working landline and Mum’s mobile is hard for Dad to use because he’s not used to them and doesn’t hear well on it.
By the end of the day I am knackered and tired of the smell. I drive back to my nice warm house, forget all the flood madness and eat like a horse. I wonder how it is for my parents, who will be more knackered than me, can’t get away from the flood madness, have nowhere to go that is home and don’t really feel like eating because of the lingering smell of their own house.