coverack flood


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COVERACK FLOOD - A Reflection

It happened on a summer's day. Sometime in the afternoon of 18th July. A massive, isolated storm hit the fishing village of Coverack, where I live, with a deluge so intense and destructive, it's been described by many residents, as "apocalyptic".

It began as an innocent kind of day - neither one thing or another. At lunchtime, I look out to sea; the colours were unnatural; the sky was broody and sulphurous, and the sea, an opaque, bruised grey-green; although there wasn't any wind, a clean swell came in from the east, breaking waves over the lifeboat slip and harbour wall. I'm not claiming there was an unnatural silence and the birds stopped singing and fell out of the trees, but it didn't feel right. In fact, I'd tweeted earlier in the day, 'looks like we're in for nasty weather'! Perhaps the air pressure dropped significantly, but it was an omen of what was to come.

The hail began to strike mid-afternoon. Nuggets of ice, the size of marbles, sprayed through leaves and flowers like random machine gun fire, ripping and puncturing delicate summer blooms; it bounced off roof tiles, dented car bodywork and smashed glass. The hail was a battering, clattering trail-blazer ahead of the rain.

And what rain: spiteful and vindictive. I've not experienced 'weather' so mean and intent on destruction since the night the Solomon Browne went down. We sat through it; mesmerised and in awe at the volume of the deluge. I'm not often lost for words, but to describe the intensity of the rain falling as torrential is inadequate. It was ferocious, loud and frightening.

Along the side of our garden, we have a gentle, meandering stream that forms the boundary between ourselves and farmland; the stream slopes down from rough moorland, Maen Dale, managed by Natural England about a mile away. Within minutes, like palomino 'horses of the apocalypse', a wall of water jostled and jumped through and over the hedge and our entire garden was immersed; I was struck by the colour.... it was like the frosting on a coffee and walnut cake, frothing and foaming in a crazed, dizzy, directionless turmoil. Too powerful for the culvert under a little bridge to cope, the water swept over a three foot wall, into the lane, descended through my neighbour's garden, flooding homes before spewing onto the beach, collecting boulders, trees and earth in its wake of destruction.

before the flood garden before the flood flood on driveway Garden flooded Hail and rain stream into crazy river Aftermath

Once the rain stopped, the water level subsided quickly. The post-deluvian debris was devastating. It had taken twelve years to create my beautiful, subtropical paradise, my little piece of heaven, and it was trashed to detritus within an hour. The paving, patios and walls were smashed or missing. The entire garden was strewn with rocks and a fine, biscuit coloured sediment and gravel paths were washed away into other peoples' gardens and homes. The riverbank was gouged out to reveal roots and rocks and the stream was unrecognisable. Huge boulders piled on top of each other, straddled by uprooted trees and, strangely, a clump of bamboo...I don't grow bamboo!!

Cornwall Council declared a major state of emergency and within a short time, a number of villagers had lost more than their gardens. Homes and businesses were flooded, one couple had to be airlifted from their roof and the surface of the main road erupted with the force of water surging under tarmac gathering huge boulders in its wake, rolling like skittle down to the sea front.

I've accepted the event enough to document the day while the memories are fresh but raw enough re-live the emotion and put it in perspective, to be reflective and analyse my feelings. There were two overriding emotions; helplessness and shock. Helpless, waiting for the force of nature to relent as the rain fell and all we could do was watch, aghast, as the water level rose. And shock; the destruction of the aftermath was numbing; my senses couldn't keep pace with what had happened. I knew it was real and yet the reality was lodged in my subconscious mind.

The next day, the reality was too evident. Every day items that represent the fundamentals of hearth and home, were dumped in the open: a bedside cupboard with the drawers missing, a pile of sodden carpet and a dented saucepan, piled up outside a neighbour's flooded home. A number of cottages are still uninhabitable and the scars are obvious throughout the village.

The emergency services, Environment Agency and Cormac, Cornwall Council's highways division, cannot be given enough praise for the amazing response to the situation. It is widely reported that the road was repaired within days. It's not simply people doing their jobs, but volunteers, the community, government agencies, re-acted with such patience, understanding and kindness. I'll never again admit to 'compassion fatigue', or lack sympathy as we view those traumatised by real devastation... it's a different story when it happens in your own 'back yard',

I'll conclude with a quote I heard from a tough, seafaring local man, 'I don't cry, but if i did, I'd cry today'. A few simple words that reflect our collective heartbreak. But tears dry, smiles return and we'll go back to what we had before long after Coverack had its day in the media spotlight: a community that cares for each other and is as rock solid as the lumps of granite deposited in my garden!

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