IT’S been one of the worst winters in living memory for flooding across the Midhurst and Petworth area. And many people have endured a living nightmare since water gushed into their houses over the Christmas holiday.
CAROLINE Cheshire moved to North Mill, Midhurst five months ago. Nothing prepared her family for the floods they experienced over Christmas.
“We were rather chuffed at ourselves this Christmas. It was 11pm on December 23 and every gift was wrapped and the stockings ready.
“The house was decorated, all food was purchased, and our goose sat in his coolbox ready for some serious dressing the next day.
“Not bad for a family who had just relocated back to the UK from Boston after 19 years. We were excited to be hosting Christmas for the first time in our newly-decorated dream home.
“At 11pm we checked the house one last time as the winds howled outside and went to bed.
“The rest is history, as they say. Flashing lights awoke my husband at around 2.30am.
“I don’t know how I found my wellies, but I remember the sound of water as I waded to the Christmas tree and started to fish out the presents and dump them on to higher surfaces.
“I tied up my curtains and sploshed into the dining room and upturned the chairs on the table.
“Out of the darkness I heard ‘the cars’ and my husband disappeared into the angry night. When he came back, he said ‘I could only save one’ – the other now had water touching the steering wheel.
“As dawn broke, we saw the 18 inches of black silty water that had invaded our home and watched in amazement at the sheer force of the water that went over our footbridge, cutting us off from the rest of the world.
“Over the next few weeks as a mother and wife, I played my role well. I hugged, comforted and assured everyone that everything was going to be okay.
“It wasn’t until our eldest daughter returned to the States that the full extent of the situation hit me.
“I no longer had to put on a brave face. I now had to deal full-time with the reality of trying to get our home back to the way it had been while living upstairs.
“I lost my ‘filter’ and blurted out to family members how unsupportive I felt they had been. I hurt their feelings which added to my stress, was teary all the time, which was very out of character, and had trouble sleeping.
“All in all I was experiencing feelings of post traumatic stress from the event nearly three weeks after the flood waters had made their literal mark.
“It was Jamie Fielding at the Environment Agency who told me about the Flood Forum where I could share my experiences.”
Jo Mansfield - Fittleworth
Until recently, Jo Mansfield was an active member of the Fittleworth community, a driving force behind the traffic action group, F-TAG. But her house has now been flooded three times, forcing her to pack her bags and leave.
“We moved into our house on Saturday, June 2, 2012, delighted to be returning to a property we had lived in once before.
“The following weekend my then 14-year-old diabetic daughter was in bed with a severe chest infection.
“I had decided to start emptying the stack of cardboard packing boxes, as it was raining hard outside and there was a lot to be done.
“Suddenly the surface water from the road slowly began to make its way through the walls and floor. We were about to be flooded.
“My poor daughter left her sick bed to assist with moving furniture upstairs.
“We grabbed the mop and bucket and tried desperately to prevent the water from coming in, but within a short space of time the sitting room and hall had around two inches of water.
“We were fortunate that we hadn’t had time to properly unpack, however the power cables left on the floor had gone under water – television and laptop lost.
“The next few days were spent drying out and phoning insurance companies, trying to make sense of what had happened, putting it down to a freak storm.
“The insurance company would not pay out as they said I should have declared I lived in a flood plain.
“On December 21, 2012 my daughter (now 15 years old) and I had returned the night before from a well-deserved winter break.
“I awoke wondering why the digital clock wasn’t working and assumed Fittleworth had suffered another power cut – half awake I went downstairs to flick the trip switch.
“That’s when the nightmare began. It was dark, I stepped down from the staircase and into four inches of icy-cold water.
“As fast as we mopped, the speeding drivers directly outside, unaware of our stress, continued to ignore the depth of the water, and as each vehicle passed, they pushed the water back into our cottage as fast as we had cleared it.
“Some four hours later and exhausted, the reality sets in as you assess the damage. The house smells damp, all the stone floors are soaking wet, the new rug purchased a few weeks prior is ruined.
“Then you realise it’s two days before Christmas, you are exhausted and instead of wrapping presents and decorating the tree, you again need to hire de-humidifiers and cancel guests.
“I promised my daughter we would have a special Christmas next year. It was unfortunate that it had happened again within six months and we were told it was due to the freak weather and probably wouldn’t happen again for the next 100 years.
“December 21, 2013 in the middle of a family Christmas dinner party, we received a call from Flood Line, announcing an amber alert, possible flooding, and to move furniture.
“After my elderly father left, so as not to worry him, family members assisted with the removal of furniture as quickly as possible.
“Bricks and pallets were brought in and larger items of furniture placed on them. Once again we prepared for the flooding. After hours of restless sleep we awoke with relief to find the cottage bone dry.
“December 22 we decided to go out and meet friends and shop as planned and then we would re-arrange home the next day.
“On the afternoon of December 23, a storm started to brew and as we watched the rainwater gushing along the kerbside and accumulating in the fields opposite, we felt sure we would be flooded.
“We positioned sandbags both sides of the stable door and placed our wellies at the bottom of the stairs. We decided to go to bed fully clothed, knowing it was only a matter of time.
“On December 24, unable to sleep properly, we started breakfast at 6am. Suddenly we were aware that the water had risen outside the cottage and was just below the window sill.
“I called the fire brigade, the highways and the police asking for assistance. Unfortunately none of the emergency services could assist.
“We had no choice, we had to vacate the cottage.
“The experience has left us feeling exhausted, emotional and very insecure. We have suffered one trauma after another, we have lost possessions, and have nowhere to call home.
“Like many others we ask, where do you go for assistance?”
For the full Behind the Headlines flooding feature, see this week’s Midhurst and Petworth Observer (February 6).