Storm Desmond: 'Laughing in the face of darkness'

Damage in Carlisle Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Flood-damaged contents have been removed from homes including this one on Warwick Road, Carlisle

Thousands of families across Cumbria are facing another day of uncertainty as they start the painstaking process of cleaning up in the wake of Storm Desmond. How are the victims, many of whom experienced devastating flooding in 2005, coping?

It's been another night away from home for many of those swept out of their streets by Storm Desmond.

Across Cumbria, hundreds are without power and facing another day of sifting through what's left of their sodden belongings.

In Carlisle, resident Rachel Lee is surveying the damage to her house in Warwick Road, near to the city's football ground.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Storm Desmond brought unprecedented levels of rain when it battered Cumbria
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Homeowners have been sifting through what can be saved and what needs to be thrown out

She and her neighbours had several hours of warnings that the flood peak coming down the Petteril, one of three rivers that meet in Carlisle, would flood their homes.

After all, the Environment Agency knew how high it had built the dykes - part of £38m worth of flood defences after the 2005 disaster - and its staff knew they would be overtopped.

"It was good because last time the warning came through after we'd been flooded, so we laughed hysterically and said thank you very much, we're already under four feet of water," she says, with a nod to the black humour she claims has kept her sane throughout the weather-related chaos.

"This time we had the warnings from first to red alert, so when they came knocking on the doors we said, 'Let's get out now, so people who need rescuing can be rescued'."

Still, even the benefit of experience did not entirely save her from the shock of the storm's force.

"I've got a very anarchic sense of humour, so I can laugh in the face of darkness. But when I went [to the house] this morning it was very much an 'oh, my goodness' moment," she says as she throws rotting food out of the freezer.

"I'm better prepared, knowing what to expect, but it's also remarkable how many people have come to help."

More than 5,000 homes are thought to have been flooded across Cumbria and Lancashire in the wake of Storm Desmond which battered the north of England over the weekend.

Countless people have turned to rescue centres for hot food, drink, even showers and toilets, including the Greystone Community Centre in Carlisle.

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Image caption Skips are being filled with damaged belongings
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A resident in Warwick Road dons her rubber gloves and gets on with the clean-up operation

Outside, a burger van sent by an energy company is providing bacon butties to those on Greystone Road. It is something of a lifeline for those staying on the upper floors of their flooded homes without electricity.

Alan Hargreaves, who lives at the other end of Greystone Road, says he would like to move from his home, but hope is fading.

"Who would buy any houses round there?" he asks. "How would you get any insurance?

"Once is bad enough," he says, referring to the devastating floods of 2005. "It's just a lot to cope with and it could happen again in a couple of months' time with the way the rain comes these days."

Image caption The Greystone Community Centre has been a lifeline to residents living nearby

The community centre is run by Gareth Webber, who has just had his first night's sleep in three days. He's now turning away offers of food, bedding and other supplies because there's simply no more room at the site.

"To be honest the spirit has been amazing," he says. "We had about 100 people to breakfast yesterday, and most of them are just getting on with it, as soon as they can get back into their houses.

"But it's terrible for them, because it's second time around. The first people who turned up on Friday night, we recognised them."

Image caption Gareth Webber said the centre has been inundated with donations
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Image caption Piles of ruined chairs and sofas are becoming a regular sight in some part of Carlisle

Perhaps among the hardest hit are people like June and John Robinson who did not know the flood was coming.

They had only recently moved to their home in Greystone Road and were not yet on the Environment Agency's automatic warning system.

June says they knew nothing about the floods until they saw blue flashing lights outside the window.

"We had 10 or 15 minutes to get out," she says. "We had Christmas presents for the grandchildren hidden behind the sofa and we put them up on the couch because we thought that would be high enough.

"But they were all floating when we went in."

Image caption June and John Robinson fear they might not be able to sell their house following the floods

The pair had already put the house on the market before the floods hit, but will now have to pay for what are likely to be extensive repairs.

"There's not a cat in hell's chance anyone's going to buy it," she laments.

Back in the kitchen, Carlisle city council leader Colin Glover reflects on the mood of his city. "It's just been devastating. The floods of 2005 were bad enough but this has been far worse.

"People have just managed to get their lives back to normal. Now they are just really tired and want to get back to normal, but that isn't going to happen for some time."

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