U.K. villagers summon ‘wartime spirit’ as Thames bursts its banks

AFP-JIJI

Residents of a village west of London evoked the wartime spirit that got the British capital through the Blitz as they faced freak floods after the Thames burst its banks, but there was frustration at the lack of official help.

In normally tranquil Wraysbury, villagers have rallied together after houses were swamped by floods that are expected to worsen later in the week.

“There’s a good community spirit, but there’s had to be because we’ve had no help from outside. You have to get on with it,” said local resident John Francis, a scuba diver who was dressed for the occasion, togged up in his dry suit.

“The Environment Agency hasn’t been particularly helpful. They’ve been concentrating on other areas. We could have done with more support.”

Francis had been out checking what would normally be dry land, but had to pull back because the current was too strong.

Locals have transformed the primary school hall into a coordination centre, organized road blocks and provided help for evacuated residents. They have also introduced patrols to deter looters from ransacking vacated homes.

But many were angry that the authorities, particularly the beleaguered Environment Agency, had not done more to protect their village from the surging water levels that have followed the wettest January since 1766.

Inside the primary school, Sylvia Davies, wife of the parish council chairman, said the floods had brought out the British “wartime spirit” — defiance in the face of adversity.

But she said the authorities’ response had been “bloody hopeless.”

“There has been nobody to help at all. We need sandbags desperately, but they have only just arrived.

“There have been a few break-ins, so it has all been a bit of a nightmare, but everyone’s rallying round.”

Davies was manning a makeshift table with hot tea and coffee on hand to warm up weary residents, plus cakes, biscuits, soup and warm pasta donated by neighbors to keep one other going throughout the ordeal.

There are maps up on the wall and residents are registering with their details. Volunteers in high-visibility jackets come and go.

Andrew Beith’s front drive was dry on Monday morning when he left for work at nearby London Heathrow Airport, but he returned to find it under several centimeters of murky water.

After getting out of his car in his rubber boots, the aircraft engineer said the water had been in the fields behind the house earlier in the day, but had clearly risen and crept through his back garden and beyond during the day.

“The damp course is set at 10 centimeters above the 1947 flood level so if we get water into house, it will be the highest ever,” he said as he surveyed the scene.

“You’d expect in this situation to have a few more sandbags. I expect there’s only so much you can do in a crisis like this but this is extremely unusual.

“I believe there’s no power now,” he added as he braced for a challenging evening.

Help is ‘too little too late’

Clad in green waders and heading past Beith’s house, Teresa Winchester was about to face a 15-minute slog down the lane through waist-high water — just to reach her front door.

Her house backs onto the River Thames, and although it was purposely built on a raised level to avoid flooding, the water needs to creep up only two more bricks before it floods.

“We’ve already started to take furniture upstairs. It’s really bad. As I come off my drive, I’m up to my belly button,” she said.

“I’m quite emotional. This is really intense. We seem to have been forgotten about down here.

“It’s all too little, too late. They should have been sandbagging here weeks ago: they knew this was coming. People are pretty frustrated.”

Scuba diver Francis checked local river level measurements on his mobile phone. The floodwaters are expected to worsen on Tuesday.

“It’s pretty desperate,” he said.

“A lot of people are trying to stick it out in their homes for as long as they can, but the river is still rising. Until it recedes, we can’t do anything.”