Man dies in aftermathof Alston downpour

Date: Friday 20th July 2007
Pat Mansel-Thomas shows where the water height was in her front room.
Pat Mansel-Thomas shows where the water height was in her front room.

AN Alston man died, a girl was injured and at least 20 homes were left in turmoil as a flash flood hit the town on Thursday night. It happened within 24 hours of homes being damaged by floods in the Ainstable area, which were described as the worst in living memory.

Joanne and Adam Hulme with their water damaged furniture.
Joanne and Adam Hulme with their water damaged furniture.

The Alston man’s death occurred after he sustained head injuries while trying to deal with the floodwater.

Tony Aldridge, who retired to the town with his wife a few years ago and lived at Nenthead Road, received treatment from local ambulance personnel and also the crew of the Pride of Cumbria air ambulance, which was called at5-50pm and landed near the centre of the town soon after. A local GP also gave assistance.

Mr. Aldridge is believed to have been injured while clearing away water from his home.

A spokesman for the air ambulance service said: “The crew found a man in a collapsed condition and he received emergency treatment. He was then flown to the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, where I understand his death was confirmed.”

Police and about 20 firemen were active in Alston during the floods, which were particularly severe in the area near the town’s primary school and at The Firs. The villages of Garrigill and Nenthead were also affected, together with numerous properties scattered around the area. The road between Alston and Garrigill was closed as silt had washed down on to the highway from the overwhelmed Thortergill Falls. A woman escaped injury after her car hit a wall in flood water in the Nentsbury area.

A spokesman for Eden Council said: “It appears that flash flooding occurred due to a surcharge of the Mill Race at the top side of Alston resulting in flooding of properties around Valley View, Garrigill Road.

“A hole was punched in the primary school boundary wall to allow water to dissipate and prevent further flooding in this area.

“This water made its way through the cemetery to The Firs, affecting mostly Eden Housing Association properties. Only one Eden Housing Association tenant has had to be decanted the residents in the other six properties damaged by the flooding are staying in their homes while the housing association carries out repairs.

“The council’s housing team is currently looking to accommodate one family in temporary accommodation, whose private residence has been affected by the flooding.”

Residents at The Firs described the effects of the downpour as being like a “tsunami”.

A river of water ran though Kate and Paul Morgan’s house. Their daughter, Bethany, and her 18-month-old son, Joshua, had to go to a friend’s house for safety, while Mr. Morgan stayed up all night attending to the situation with bleach and a mop.

“I’ve lost everything,” said Mr. Morgan, who is an electrician. The washing machine, flooring, computers, dishwasher and fridge were all destroyed along with a number of children’s toys and £300 worth of food which was in the freezer.

A torrent to water flowed through properties at The Firs from 4pm until 9-30pm. “Our main concern is hygiene,” said resident Jackie Jones. “This is other people’s sewage we are dealing with.”

At least eight houses in the area were affected by water damage. Yesterday, sofas, carpets and appliances were piled up outside the worst-hit properties. Mr. Morgan said: “You see it on the television but when you are actually standing in your living room faced with a wall of water, it is a blank feeling of hopelessness.”

The force of the water amazed residents. “It was like an earthquake. Tarmac was ripped up,” said one householder.

Charlotte Jones, aged 13, had to be treated at Alston hospital, where she received stitches in her leg after she fell into a drain. The drain cover had been ripped off by the force of the water, leaving a hole in the road which she fell into, injuring her foot and leg.

Alarm bells began ringing for residents at 4pm as rainwater began seeping beneath back doors. Towels and rugs were put down to stem the flow, but to no avail. Residents said the weight of the flood forced back doors open, allowing water and debris to sweep into their homes.

Penrith-based station officer John Wright, of the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, said the 15 Alston firemen were called out at about 5-30pm to deal with flooding at The Firs and around the primary school. A fire engine from Penrith with a further six firemen was called in soon after.

He said: “Water got into about 12 properties on The Firs it ran in the back doors, where it was about 2ft deep, and out again at the front. We helped move furniture and pump water out, but the damage was quite bad. I believe most of the people are living upstairs until it can be assessed.

“Properties round by the primary school also had to be pumped out I believe eight to 10 were involved. There were also numerous individual properties affected in Alston, Garrigill and Nenthead.

“There was quite substantial damage to the road surface at The Firs, where the force of the water lifted some block sets, and at Garrigill, where it lifted the tarmac.

“We had to knock a number of walls down to let the water through, including a 15ft length at the primary school and 5ft at Nenthead Road.

“The floods started to ease back at around 8pm and the fire crews were on the scene until 11-30pm helping with the clean-up.”

He added that many local residents helped fight the floods, and several farmers brought in machinery as well.

Eden Council contractor TFE Accord had already sent some sandbags to Alston during the day and despatched a 7.5-tonne wagon with two pallets of sandbags about 100 in total at about 7pm, with a further 50 being sent later.

A TFE operative who lives in Alston directed placement of bags on their arrival. Some were left at “at risk” properties and the town’s police station.

According to Cumbria County Council, the C3039 at Garrigill Bridge, Alston, will be closed for five days due to water lifting the carriageway surface, rendering it impassable. There are also large quantities of debris collected in the surrounding area.

Elsewhere, the B6259 at Thringill Bridge, Nateby, was closed yesterday morning, with the bridge parapets having being washed away, but was expected to be open during the afternoon.

It was all hands to the pumps, in some cases literally, as parts of the Eden Valley were badly hit by flash flooding.

Sudden heavy downpours on Wednesday brought flooding to parts of Penrith around lunchtime and outlying areas later in the afternoon and evening.

Ainstable was one of the worst affected places as homes were breached by rain water which overwhelmed becks running through the village and also flowed from fields on higher ground. Firefighters were also called to Armathwaite and Skelton and spent several hours helping to pump away water and mop up.

Rail services on both the Settle-to-Carlisle route and west coast main line were delayed by the poor weather.

In Ainstable, despite the worst flooding in living memory, a true sense of community spirit shone through. Station manager Colin Phillipson, of Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, who was called to the village, said: “It was a joy to be there, not because of the tragedy that had occurred, just to see how some people can care about each other in a crisis.”

Concern for properties grew just after 4pm as initial showers became heavier in a matter of minutes. At the New Crown Inn, licensees Paul and Vikki Francis said they were unable to see 50 yards across the street during the downpours. Their cellar was flooded and stock, including three barrels of beer, ruined.

However, this was only discovered after the couple had gone to the aid of friends and neighbours.

Joanne and Adam Hulme, of Ghyll Foot, returned to their home after being informed of the rising water levels by neighbours. “When we got back the water was already in so we tried to get everything upstairs,” said 31-year-old Mrs. Hulme, who runs the Narrowbar in Penrith.

A filing cabinet containing paperwork was removed but furniture, electrical equipment, kitchen units and white goods were damaged beyond repair. “You really have to get on with it,” said Mr. Hulme, 33, who runs Eden Treescapes. “It could have been a lot worse.”

The couple’s next door neighbour, Pat Mansell-Thomas, returned to Ainstable late in the afternoon to find her garden under 2ft of water which was also flowing into her house. “My first thoughts were, ‘I just cannot take it in. I just don’t believe it. What do I do now?’,” she said. “It was a terrifying sight, an unstoppable monster.”

Neighbours helped Miss Mansell-Thomas salvage some plants while sandbags were eventually put in place which helped stem the tide.

The flooding had been a double blow for her. In February, the garden was covered in 50 litres of oil which had leaked from a pipe close by. Since April she had spent many hours restoring the garden, only for her work to be cruelly undone by the heavy rain.

“I just feel as if I don’t want to stay here,” said Miss Mansell-Thomas, who had moved in only last December. “I am retired and my garden is my life.”

However, she was full of praise for village residents. “It was all hands to the pump, it literally was. Everybody was trying to do something. It shows the strength of a close rural community,” she said.

Firefighters called to Ainstable found their task of mopping up helped by agricultural contractor and farmer Duncan Maughan, of Gateshaw Mill, Cumrew.

Mr. Maughan, who owns an umbilical pump a high capacity unit which can pump away around 40,000 gallons an hour took it to the village. Using pipes he was able to divert a huge amount of water into a nearby field. “You don’t think about it, you just think ‘somebody’s house is going to get flooded’. You just want to do what you can to help,” said Mr. Maughan, who was helped by his cousin, Stuart, and numerous others.

Mr. Phillipson said that the beck in the village became “totally overwhelmed”, while surrounding low-lying roads “became rivers”.

Around a dozen properties in Ainstable were affected by flood water, with between 18in and 2ft of water in around five or six.

“One of the problems we had was actually getting there with the road conditions, with walls down and the depth of the flood water,” said Mr. Phillipson. “The community spirit in the village was unbelievable. Everybody just helping each other out. I have never come across anything like it.”

A wedding rehearsal due to be held that evening at the home of Jan Notman had to be postponed after water flooded a utility room.

Mrs. Notman’s daughter, Emma, aged 31, and her fiancé, Rodney Pattinson, are due to be married today. Thankfully, there had been no damage and the rehearsal was hastily rearranged for Thursday evening.

Mrs. Notman, aged 60, recalled flooding in Ainstable some years ago, but of Wednesday’s events she said: “This is the worst I have seen in my lifetime,” she added.

In Penrith a cloudburst at Young Steps nursery, High Carleton, at 12-30pm caused the beck outside the premises to overflow into the grounds within a matter of minutes.

Part of the pre-school area was affected as water got in under a fire door and nearly launched a pirate ship which the children had made as part of an “under the sea and on the sea” topic.

Nursery manager Kate Rhodes said: “We had to remove that very quickly. The children were very excited. They thought the pirate ship was going to launch.”

Staff worked all afternoon to clear away the layer of silt which was left and there was still some powerwashing to be done outside on Thursday morning. The beck overflowed when a grille was blocked with grass and debris.

The reception area and two offices at Penrith’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School were also flooded as a result of the heavy rainfall.

Headteacher Chris Kirkup said the drains running alongside the building could not take the pressure of the water and a couple of inches came under the door.

Staff were assisted by pupils in the clean-up operation and four sixth formers who took off their socks and shoes and rolled up their trousers to help get the water out each received a letter of commendation for their efforts.

Staff at one town business had to mop up on two different sites. Employees of Neil Bousfield Motors sprung into action as vehicle pits in its premises at both Cromwell Road and Gilwilly Road were left under several feet of water.

Proprietor Neil Bousfield said it was the second time in two years that flooding had occurred. However, employees at both sites had been quick to move vehicles to prevent them being damaged. Electric pumps were used to disperse the water to drains nearby, and Mr. Bousfield said that had caused some disruption to business.

“When there is heavy rain we are used to getting everything out of the garage and workshop,” he said.