Three years ago communities across Cumbria watched helplessly as the floodwaters rose and engulfed thousands of homes.

People's lives were turned upside down, and while the spirit of Cumbria shone through in the recovery effort, the reality is many still live in fear that there are darker days to come.

Among those hit by the nightmare were Elsie and Eric Martlew, who say it is unacceptable that Carlisle remains unprotected.

Mrs Martlew told the News & Star: "I'm just praying for a dry winter. It's just heartbreaking. I don't know what the reaction would be if we flooded again.

"What do people do? We are helpless.

"We rely on the Environment Agency and the Government doing it and they are just sleepwalking."

Her comments come after the Environment Agency admitted if a storm of such magnitude struck again, parts of Cumbria - particularly Carlisle - would be no better off than they were in 2015.

While the agency is better prepared and trained to respond to incidents like Storm Desmond and has addressed 96 per cent of the short term actions in Cumbria Flood Action Plan, flood risk manager Stewart Mounsey said flood defence schemes will make the biggest difference.

"In terms of the capital programmes, particularly for Carlisle, we need those schemes finishing before there is any major difference between where we were in 2015 and where we are now," he said.

“We are able to respond better and quicker in terms of incident response but unfortunately the extent of the damage would be the same."

Mrs Martlew said: "I'm really, really angry. It is three years on and not a brick has been laid. The complacency is unbelievable. To say it would be just as bad, what do you think people like me feel like. Everytime it rains heavily we fear we are going to be flooded again."

By now she said she would have expected the project to be well underway. She blames the Government for the speed at which the project is being delivered but believes that had this been the south of England, a scheme would already be in place.

"I'm realistic enough to know they had to assess what happened, where the water came from, where it went and how to prevent it - but three years is a long leading time. The gestation time for these flood defences in unacceptable," she said.

"They can spend billions on crossrail and they can't protect. It is the first priority of any government to protect the people of the country and they are failing miserably. It typifies the north-south divide."

Coming into the winter again she is always apprehensive and monitoring the river levels when it rains.

She said she will feel much better when the £25m scheme for Carlisle is in place but until then, like many others, will live in fear that her home remains undefended.

Mrs Martlew and her husband Eric were flooded for the second time in 2015. A decade earlier, they lost everything when severe flooding hit Carlisle in January 2005. They were away in London at the time and were unable to do anything to save their possessions from the floodwaters.

Despite receiving the flood warnings ahead of Storm Desmond, and being able to move things up from the ground flood, it was still a year later before they were able to move back into their home at Caldew Maltings.

"The Environment Agency says we have got people to help - I don't want help, I want prevention," she said.

"We were out of our home for over a year. You just lose a year. You can settle. It's just horrendous. There is no other word for it.

"I would guess I am speaking for every flood victim. It hits us all the same and the older you get, the worse it is and you don't cope as well."