Community spirit shines through in flood hit ‘war zone’

It would be wrong to call it eaves-dropping, because people were talking so openly it was impossible not to overhear the comments.
WRECKED: Cars and houses wrecked in CatcliffeWRECKED: Cars and houses wrecked in Catcliffe
WRECKED: Cars and houses wrecked in Catcliffe

Those of a child, seeing a line of parked cars which - hours earlier - had been submerged in flood water and remained battered, silt-covered, versions of their former-selves: “Oh my God, look at that car, that’s right bad,” said the young lad to his friends.

A man talking loudly into a mobile phone repeated an often-used phrase, “they said it could never happen again”, apparently still unable to comprehend the difference between what a community with bitter experience of flooding had been told, and the reality of what he had to contend with.

This was day one of my service at the Rotherham Advertiser, an experience which - after four decades of talking to people experiencing low points in their lives - will stick with me among the handful of worst-case scenarios I have encountered.

I’m lucky enough never to have witnessed a war-zone at first hand. I assume, if I had, it might look a bit like this.

Not just the devastation. That would be bad enough. Expensive possessions wrecked, homes destroyed, everyday items left filthy and piled high in gardens, or abandoned in the streets where currents of water had taken them.

But the biggest impact, as a stranger taking slippery steps on mud-covered streets in Catcliffe, was the people on the streets.

There were plenty, assessing the damage, taking the first steps towards clearing out their homes, and sharing their thoughts.

It seemed many were somehow detached. It reminded me of the wartime expression “bomb-happy”, for those who failed to grasp the reality of the devastation the enemy had bestowed on them.

This time the foe was not of humankind, but Storm Babet.

Were there any positive signs? Yes. A community hit by three serious floods in less than a quarter of a century might be expected to have an inbuilt resilience.

Catcliffe people have it.

There was even a hint of humour - an asking price of £500 written with a finger on the silt-covered windscreen of a car - days earlier someone’s pride and joy - reduced to scrap metal.

Everyone knows there are questions to be answered; difficult conversations to be had; a struggle just to get back to the status quo which existed on the morning of Friday October 20.

The calm in the demeanour of those I spoke to surprised me.

I’d expected barely controlled anger.

Perhaps there’s another expression for it: Community spirit.

No-one should under-estimate the challenges facing Catcliffe.

But I believe community spirit will see people through. So long as they get the right support from the authorities, when it is needed.

And some meaningful actions to make sure that, this time, it really won’t be able to happen again.

Catcliffe doesn’t deserve that.