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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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‘This is horrible. I could just weep and weep’ - Keswick flood victim

There was an eerie silence in the area around Greta Bridge in Keswick.

November floods photo
Mary Bowness

The solitary police woman standing beside the blue and while tape which sealed off the bridge listened intently as her radio crackled.

“They’re closing the bridge,” she said, confirming that the engineers who had inspected the bridge feared the ferocious flood water still raging just a few hundred feet away may sweep away the stone structure.

As I stood looking at the deserted bridge – normally the main route into Keswick from the west – I saw an elderly woman walking past, her expression one of intense worry.

Catching my eye, she paused, greeted me, and began telling her story.

A sprightly 80-year-old, Mary Bowness has lived in her neat terraced home, on High Hill, just a across the road from where we stood, for more than 50 years.

Like many of her neighbours, she had seen floods in Keswick before.

“When it first happened, in 1957, they said it was an act of God,” said Mary. “But what happened last night was worse than any of the floods we’ve had before.”

She went on to describe the terrifying night she had endured, trapped in her home as her street, High Hill, was engulfed by fast flowing flood water that spilled unstoppably from the River Greta.

Helplessly, from the candlelit interior of her home, she looked through her bedroom window as plastic wheelie bins and huge half-barrel planters were swept downstream.

With her phones out of action, Mary’s desperately worried family were unable to contact her – though emergency services staff were able to confirm she was okay.

Close to tears, Mary said: “The water was so high – it was horrible.

“It was flowing through the house and was strong enough to knock over the fridge in my kitchen. They tried to rescue me by getting me out of the back window, but I wasn’t going to risk it. The current was too strong. It was a real torrent.

“I really was afraid.”

“All the phones were not working – even my mobile wasn’t working. I spent the night upstairs in the house, with lighted candles. This was the worst flood we’ve seen. I could just weep and weep.”

Unable to hold back the tears, Mary began to quietly sob as her granddaughter hugged and reassured her.

Near Mary’s home the road was littered with clues to the incredible force of the flood. Scattered along the pavement were several large boulders, swept along by the force of the water.

One had come to rest outside the Riverside Guest House, where a burly man stood clearing away flood debris.

Fire officer Martin Renson, 40, had been on duty at London’s Heathrow Airport yesterday when his mother Linda Taylor, 59, who recovering from a brain tumour, called, telling him she could see flood water heading for her home in Crosthwatie Road.

“I told her to get her personal belongings upstairs and that I would ask for special leave so I could get straight up to Keswick,” said Martin.

Twenty minutes later, when he tried to call back, the phone line was dead.

The fire officer alerted local emergency services and then set off for Keswick. He was later told that his mother had refused to go with rescue workers, preferring to stay at home.

Martin arrived in Keswick shortly after nightfall, initially going to the town’s fire station because the flood had cut off his mother’s road.

At 7.45pm, unable to bear the uncertainty any more, he set off on foot to see if he could get to his mother’s house.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Greta Bridge, almost entirely swamped by the flood.

He said: “It was pitch black and all I could hear was the tremendous roar of the water, which was coming over the top of the bridge.”

With infinite care, Martin decided to had to get across, clinging for dear life as he did so to the wall downstream of the freezing cascade.

“I could feel the power of the current,” he said.

He eventually found himself standing across the road from his mother’s guesthouse, but the water racing down Crosthwaite Road was just too powerful to risk crossing.

“It was two or three feet deep, but the current was just too strong. If I’d risked going in, it would have taken me. It was at least 25 to 30 knots – it was scary.

“I could see that the water was rising fast.

“I’d have been washed away. I stood, watching my mother’s house for 20 minutes, and eventually saw her appear at a window and look out.

“I shone my torch – she can’t have known it was me – and she waved back.”

Martin slept the night in his car, and was finally able to see his mum at 9am yesterday. “I found her downstairs, cleaning up the mess. The house did suffer damage but that can be repaired. The important thing is that my mother’s okay.”

At nearby Crosthwaite Gardens, the flood triggered a rescue operation with a difference. From their home there, Joyce and David Walker run their Pets Lifeline charity, caring for nearly 20 cats and eleven kittens. They also three dogs, two guinea pigs and a pet rat. Fourteen of the cats from the couple’s cattery had to be re-homed in a huge hurry.

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