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'This can't happen again' say traders hit by devastating Christmas flooding

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: December 31, 2012

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BUSINESSES on a Tiverton industrial estate near the River Exe are counting the cost of flooding which has seen them picking up mops and discarding stock while everyone else enjoyed a festive break.

The petrol station, forecourt and car park at Morrisons store in Tiverton was under four feet of water following unprecedented rain.

While an army of staff and contractors worked tirelessly to ensure the supermarket's petrol station could re-open during the week, those at smaller businesses elsewhere on the Kennedy Way industrial estate are facing a longer struggle to be able to resume trading.

Among the worst affected traders was Farm Flowers, which lost around 100 orders which were set to be delivered or collected in the two days before Christmas but which could not be saved.

Bob Postlethwaite, from Farm Flowers, said his stock rooms had been "completely eliminated" by the water. Following days of clearing up, a temporary space has been created in which they can make up orders in the dry.

Fresh flowers from Holland came in on Saturday with the rearranged deliveries starting on the same day, but Mr Postlethwaite said three of his vehicles were off the road because of flood damage.

Bob said he had been contacted by the fire service on the Saturday night and on arriving at the units had been shocked by the speed at which the water had been flowing.

He said: "There are eight businesses here in this section of the estate, and the total loss of business could be as much as a million pounds I reckon."

Alan Collins, from West Exe Motors, which has been trading in Tiverton for 29 years, said he had lost around 20 cars which had been written off by water damage.

He said: "You may be able to start the cars and drive them, but we couldn't sell the vehicles knowing how high the water got, because there could be problems with the electrics or the airbag mechanisms or all sorts of other things."

Mr Collins's own E-type Jaguar was also stored in the workshop and has been badly damaged and the business remains closed while the reception area dries out.

He said the flooding which he first saw the extent of, on Sunday morning, had disrupted his staff's festive plans too.

"The staff have all been coming in over Christmas to help with the clear-up," he said.

"They had Christmas Day off and that was it, since then everyone has been helping. It wasn't just dirty water, but was mixed with oil because we had an oil drainer which tipped over too."

Mr Collins said it could take weeks to restore the business to its pre-flood state, with the likely loss to the business approaching a six-figure sum.

Nikki Shaw, who runs Twyford Coal and Country Supplies, was also a victim of the flooding.

She had to go to Tiverton Hospital on Friday afternoon after falling onto a freezer and injuring her ribs while trying to move a waterlogged feed bag. She said the discomfort was only a minor inconvenience on top of the loss of vital business supplies as well as important paperwork.

"We are a family business and we deliver pet food and coal to a lot of the local farms," she said.

"I like to think I know all my customers and exactly how much their order is each week, but I am so worried with everything that is happening that we might let one of our customers down, and some of them are quite elderly and really depend on us."

She said with the help of staff and friends, they had filled four skips with discarded water-damaged stock, with a further two skips on order.

Skips were also present outside Market Carpets in Kennedy Way, which was flooded and had to close while ruined stock was removed.

"We have had a disaster – the store is completely flooded, said company director Mike Burch.

"All the stock is drenched and we have piles of carpets destroyed.

The petrol station at Morrisons, which had flooded overnight on December 22, reopened on Saturday after staff pulled together to remove all water, repair damage and thoroughly clean the site, replacing most of the electrical items in the kiosk and re-stocking food and supplies.

Store general manager Glen Allen said: "The sheer volume of rain over the last week caused the River Exe to flood the station and we had no option but to close the site for the safety of both customers and colleagues.

"We've all worked hard to get everything in working order again to serve our customers. It's a real testament to the staff here and everyone who has helped to get us open again so quickly, considering it was under four feet of water a week ago."

Mr Postlethwaite said he wished to thank all his customers who had been so understanding – most of whom had agreed to a new delivery date in the New Year.

However, he said once the clean-up was completed, attention should turn to how to prevent any repeat flooding.

"We are most worried about it happening again and we feel a little bit 'out of sight, out of mind' here," he said.

"What is needed is a proper flood defence scheme similar to the banking around Petroc. If that was in place around the Morrisons site it could have prevented the water coming through the industrial estate as quickly as it did."

Tiverton Town assistant manager Hedley Steele has expressed his gratitude to the 30 or so volunteers who gave up their Boxing Day afternoon to help in the clean-up operation at Ladysmead.

Flooding left the Tiverton Town pitch and changing rooms under a foot of water, meaning the club's matches against Clevedon Town and Paulton Rovers were postponed, although Steele was optimistic Saturday's clash with Bishops Cleeve would go ahead. (Turn to page 46 for more on the Ladysmead flooding).

Diners at a Dulverton pub had to be evacuated on the same night after the rain-swollen River Barle burst its banks, leading to flooding for homes and businesses.

Patrons of The Bridge Inn had to be evacuated when owners Rachel and Kenny McDonald spotted water gushing over the town bridge just a few yards from the pub.

Following a reported 48 hours of almost continuous rain, water levels rose to almost three feet by late evening on Saturday, December 22.

The water subsided over the next two hour, but carpets, walls and furniture at the pub were left caked in mud.

Rachel said staff returned to help with the clear-up early the next morning, and the team worked throughout Sunday and Christmas Eve to get the pub back open for bookings on Boxing Day.

Fire crews also went to the aid of flood victims in Silverdale Close, Brushford, and North Moor Road, Dulverton, and rescued a woman who was stuck in her car in fast-flowing floodwater near Perry Farm, Brushford, shortly after 8.30pm.

Residents at Stoke Canon, near Exeter, also had to flee their homes with around 20 families needing to be evacuated on the morning of Sunday, December 23.

The village pub acted as a refuge centre for those affected.

Maggy Clark, chairman of the Stoke Canon Inn, said: "Many of those who were flooded out came in to seek shelter. We were open all day. The water kept rising but we kept sweeping it out.

"Despite what happened, people were in amazing spirits. This is when the community pub really came into its own. There was one house where the family had already gone home for Christmas and a neighbour had to break in to rescue their cats. Everyone has been looking out for each other."

Around 20 people in the village who had become stranded had to be rescued by boat, fire crews said.

To the relief of rail passengers, the main railway line connecting the South West to the rest of England reopened last Friday after closing for a week due to flooding. The line was blocked between Tiverton Parkway and Exeter St David's due to flooding at Cowley Bridge, with replacement coach services running to and from the station.

The line re-opened at midday on Friday, but there was still some disruption for passengers travelling on the route for much of the afternoon. The Tarka Line, which connects Exeter and Barnstaple via Crediton, remains closed at time of going to press.

After the heavy rain of the past few days, more rain is forecasted for today, and the Environment Agency says this could result in further flooding.

"The flood risk may be escalated on Monday as confidence in the rainfall forecast increases," an agency spokesman said. "There is an ongoing groundwater flood risk for parts of southern and southwestern England. "The public are advised to stay alert."

However, once Monday's wet weather is out of the way, the Met Office say there is a 'glimmer of hope' on the horizon.

The New Year could be ushered in with "a few days of dry weather by the middle of the week" the Met Office says.

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