It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since the floods hit the county. On November 19th 2009 our communities were gripped by a major emergency incident. The widespread damage and devastation included the tragic death of PC Bill Barker when Northside bridge collapsed – and our thoughts are with Hazel Barker and her family at this difficult time. We should also remember those who are still waiting to return to their homes or are lamenting the loss of a business which never got back on its feet.
Many who saw the extent of the flooding and the power that the forces of nature unleashed in the incident still believe it was a minor miracle that more people didn’t perish. But it is clear that the floods brought an immense amount of damage – both physical and emotional.
It is testimony to the strength of the Cumbrian spirit that we have done so much to bounce back from the county’s biggest natural disaster in recent memory.
We share an inherent and indomitable spirit which prevails because we love the place we live. Cumbria’s climate and landscape can be brutal as well as beautiful. We respond to this adversity by drawing strength from one another. To overcome and thrive in the challenges our county throws at us, we have developed a strong sense of community – built on steely self sufficiency and a readiness to help those in need.
When the unprecedented rains came in November 2009, it was our unparalleled community spirit that saw us through. I was not the Leader of Cumbria County Council then – my late colleague Jim Buchanan led the county council admirably through the initial response and recovery – but it was clear that we drew on our own strengths to get back on our feet. Neighbour helped neighbour, businesses came to the aid of others, rescue services, councils and volunteers joined together to save lives and property. We know that when times are tough, we can’t wait for others to ride to the rescue. We always stand ready to help ourselves.
But even Cumbria’s redoubtable resilience was not enough in the face of November’s rains. The floodwaters brought unprecedented damage to our transport infrastructure, splitting communities and disrupting the local economy. Hundreds of people and families from areas all around the county were forced from their homes – with serious implications for their health and well being, their family life and the education of their children.
The county has received tremendous assistance from government departments and other agencies who were speedy with pledges of support and promises of funds – much of which was quickly put in the hands of those local people and businesses hardest hit.
An enormous amount of work has gone into the recovery effort, but it has placed a huge burden on public bodies. Resources and budgets have been stretched to breaking point. Funds have been diverted to deal with the immediate needs, but this leaves holes elsewhere and the longer term impact of the floods will be felt for years to come.
We’ve worked hard to ensure that the solutions we have found will have a lasting benefit for the county and, where possible, that the dark, sullen, clouds of November 2009 will have a silver lining for Cumbria. A glimpse of the new design for Navvies footbridge in Workington is testimony to that hope – but clearly we have to be realistic in the current financial climate.
There is still work to be done – some bridges still need to be built and repaired and we need to consider the best ways to protect communities in the future from similar disasters. But Team Cumbria can be justifiably proud of all it has achieved in the last year.
Today, the overarching mood in the county is one of determination to put the floods in the past, recognise and celebrate the work that has gone into recovery and move forwards.
Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader, Cumbria County Council