Flood-hit folk fighting to turn problem into priority

Flood-hit folk fighting to turn problem into priority

A boy takes a picture of the flooded Lowther pub and River Ouse in York

The flooded River Ouse in York

Horses seek sanctuary from flooded fields near Green Hammerton

Di Keal walks past one of the drains pump outlets in Church Street, Norton

Sam Edwards, whose home on Derwent Terrace, Norton, is regularly at risk of flooding due to inadequate drains. She is pictured in Norton Hardware, which she runs with her husband, Dean

Flood barriers in Skeldergate, York

First published in Features

Water, water everywhere. MATT CLARK reports on the first deluge of 2013

IT’S a familiar sight. Flood water lapping up Cumberland Street and pouring out of drain holes above the Lowther Inn’s door, and Tower Gardens looking more like a water garden.

There’s a similar story across the county, with people being rescued from cars stuck in flooded roads, Cawood Bridge and Howsham Bridge once again closed, Fulford interchange cut off on New Year’s Day and fields around Green Hammerton that have been lakes for months.

In York things are beginning to improve, and yesterday the Ouse was 3.18 metres above normal, compared with a peak on New Year’s Day of 4.4 metres.

But it’s a different picture in Norton, where drains, not the river, are causing problems. And not just with rainwater. Sam Edwards spent the weeks running up to Christmas worrying about sewage getting into her house.

“We woke up one morning to find a dirty great big puddle outside that got bigger rather quickly,” says Sam. “My husband, Dean, and the neighbours were fighting it off for about 12 hours until it got to the point where they couldn’t cope.”

Then the emergency services took over and Sam had a bunch of firemen camped out in her garage for almost a week.

“They had two pumps running constantly and I never thought I’d be woken up by the lack of noise when they left,” she says.

Sam is expecting her third child and says when you are suffering morning sickness, having sewage floating past your window is the last thing you need.

Worse still, almost as soon as the mess had been cleared up, it was back again.

Sam and Dean were taking no chances this time and all the Christmas presents were left high and dry – just in case.

“I almost began to wish it would get on with it so we could deal with the aftermath and not have the stress of worrying about it day after day,” says Sam. “Then we had the ‘flood tourists’ taking pictures and saying: ‘Isn’t it terrible? Bye’. That really annoyed me.”

If that wasn’t enough her children had a fever over Christmas and in more ways than one it was a washout. The whole family was stuck indoors for days because Sam says she couldn’t let her children out for fear of them falling over in raw sewage.

To make matters worse, the pumps had to be turned off every time a train ran, because the outlet pipes crossed the tracks on their way to the river.

“I understand our drains are Victorian but for people in Norton something needs to be sorted, even if it’s just separating the drain water from the sewage. It’s a lot easier cleaning up rainwater than poo.”

Di Keal was flooded back in 1999. She says the sight of her children being ferried away by boat is one that will never leave her and it was ten months before her family was able to return home.

Which is one of the reasons she and her husband Howard fought tirelessly to get flood defences for Norton.

Di says they have held up pretty well, despite the recent deluges, which is more than can be said for the drains.

The problem occurs when the river is high because valves designed to allow drain water to go into the river aren’t able to open.

And that means the sewers back up.

“There are engineering solutions that could be put in place, but we are told an investigation could take 18 months,” says Di. “We haven’t got 18 months and some people haven’t even had 18 weeks.”

Until something is done lakes of raw sewage will remain an all-too familiar sight in Norton, and Di believes that is down to complacency and denial from the authorities. She says they simply hope it won’t happen and in any case if sewage seeps into your garden, but not your house, it’s not seen as a priority.

By then, of course, it’s too late.

“People are facing this over and over again,” says Di. “At the weekend the pumps stopped working because they hadn’t been refuelled. So sewage was straight back into houses again.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency and Yorkshire Water needs to accept responsibility for this. They keep saying it’s an act of God, but it’s not.”

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