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THE FLOODS AT BEWDLEY

In Autumn 2000, the rains came. And they stayed. And when the ground was thoroughly sodden, the weather threw in a gale or two to bring root-loosened trees crashing down across roads and railways.

But it was the swollen rivers that brought the real dislocation and devastation. From Yorkshire to Sussex to the West Country, they stepped out of their courses, flooded fields and invaded towns.

Left: Severn Side North in gloomy overcast. Below: A satellite dish to tell the world of Bewdley's troubles. A pedestrian underpass normally goes under the bridge arch.

Roads became impassable, either because the waters were too deep or because you could no longer see where they went anyway. Meanwhile, railway embankments got eroded from beneath the track. Lines still open ran rudimentary services at longer intervals and with no definite arrival times because part of their stock was out of reach, and what remained had to take detours around the lost trackage, call at stations they normally passed - and go soft-foot where fast running might lead to unplanned bathing.

Day by day, the records tumbled as the rivers kept on rising - worst for five years, worst for ten, worst since 1947 ...and finally: worst since records began.

In our part of the world, of course, it was the Severn that held our attention. Always a river ready to show its muscle, this year it surpassed itself: Shrewsbury marooned, Bridgnorth besieged, Bewdley closed, Worcester flooded beyond memory.

We took a look at Bewdley on Wednesday 1st November and came back with the pictures you see here. The BBC had seized the high ground by parking two outside broadcast vans on the crown of Bewdley's bridge, awaiting their 60 seconds of renewed fame on each news bulletin. The bridge was otherwise closed to motor traffic, and thin barricades narrowed the bridge to keep people back from the edges while still allowing them to sight-see. And there were plenty of sightseers with their cameras alongside our own.

Awash and silent, now, were the pub with karaoke that had made us cringe, the fish and chip shop we'd gone to with relatives, the tea-shop we'd visited with friends. Already they'd be thinking about the new burden of restoration, new claims on insurance companies, higher premiums next time round.

Left: That bar is barely above water level - but still a high step for the occupants. Below: a more general view of the houses south of the bridge - with lit streetlights marking the roadside.

An increasingly unloved Prime Minister of a once overwhelmingly popular Government came later that day to see the damage, was heckled about the closure of Kidderminster Hospital's Accident & Emergency Unit, and apparently cut short his visit as a result. Perhaps he could have taken a hint from the strength in adversity shown by the people he didn't find time to see. As one of the residents reportedly said afterwards, "I'm up to my knees in water and they sent me another drip".

He didn't need it: the rain carried on falling and our large rivers, being tidal, were opposed even by the seas as they tried to shed their burden.

As we write, the waters still occupy large areas of normally dry town and countryside, but in time they will recede, the cameras will go home, the victims will get their homes and businesses back in order, and a new crisis will distract the Government's attention from the promises made here and elsewhere - or perhaps not. We shall see.

Left: A view from a street on the south-east bank, with ducks providing the only unhindered traffic. The road merges straight into the river. Below: the same street seen from the west bank, with swans riding the turbulent river currents.

At one level, it's difficult to identify what can be done when Nature pulls on her powerful high boots and tramples across our false sense of security, leaving a trail of damaged hopes and ruined property wherever she chooses. But amidst the unfocused "something must be done" brigade, there were also people who sounded like they knew what to do and had the practical expertise to make a success of it. Wouldn't it be nice, just for once, to have the Government give those people the resources and the relative freedom of action they need to get on and prove it?
Harry Drummond.


All material Copyright © 2000 DudleyMall.

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