Residents' despair as 'inevitable' floods creep nearer

Yvonna Lay
Image caption Mayor of Runnymede, Yvonna Lay, is evacuating her house with her family, including her baby grandchild

As flooding along the River Thames forces families to leave their homes, those still there have described their feelings of helpless desperation.

"We have been watching it coming up for days. It is the creeping inevitability of it all - that's the worst bit," said Mike Berwick, in Staines, Surrey.

His house has never flooded since he moved there in 1997, but water from the swollen river is now lapping at his doorstep.

Sandbags, delivered by the Army, are his last line of defence, but he believes these will be futile when the water rises.

He has moved all his belongings upstairs and is planning to leave only when the waters flow into his home.

"It's utterly extraordinary and unprecedented," he said.

"But it is due to 50 years of neglect, not five weeks of rain."

Benches submerged

The Environment Agency has said hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes and thousands more are at risk from flooding in Surrey.

There are 14 severe flood warnings, in place on the River Thames in Surrey and Berkshire, meaning there is a potential risk to life, with two in Somerset.

Some 400 homes have been "completely waterlogged", the agency added.

This is evident in Staines town centre.

When walking down Thames Street, it is hard to distinguish between the Thames and the street.

Park benches are submerged and water has risen to the tops of rubbish bins. It is also eerily quiet as the engorged river slides by.

Image caption Benches are marooned by the water in Thames Street, Staines
Image caption Debris is washed into flooded streets in Staines

Some of the worst flooding is around the Wapshott Road area, with suburban bungalows and post-war prefabs under dire threat.

Georgina Munasina, who lives on Goring Road, said: "We had the bags delivered yesterday, but they won't make much of a difference. I woke up at six this morning and it was coming up.

"It's still flowing and there's a current.

"We've got small kids and they want to come outside to play in it. But this is drain water not river water."

This worry that the polluted water from drains could cause health problems is evident from many of the residents.

'Not safe'

Yvonna Lay, mayor of Runnymede Borough Council, lives a couple of metres from the flooding.

"We're just getting ready to evacuate now," she said.

"My daughter-in-law is in the house with her 10-month-old baby so I don't think it's safe for them.

"The flood will leave behind all sorts of rubbish. And there's a risk people could get ill from this water."

Ms Lay, a Conservative councillor, said she believed there was little benefit from apportioning blame to politicians.

"I don't think there's anything anybody can do, it's unprecedented," she said.

"There's no point going down the blame route. But these are old Victorian sewers and drains."

However, as the rain continues and more homes are flooded, the feelings of helpless desperation may develop, with anger taking their place.

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