Communities rally together as Bedford battles floods

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The Embankment, Bedford Borough River Great Ouse Floods December 2020. Credit: David Litchfield

Bedford Borough communities have rallied round to help neighbours and strangers alike, as flooding swept through the town and villages after heavy rainfall began on 23 December.

For updates and advice visit about flood warnings visit flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/warnings

Residents were forced to leave their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as the river levels rose.

Flood warnings are still in place for the River Great Ouse today (Boxing Day) despite water levels beginning to recede.

However, while floodwater levels have peaked at Bedford, the ‘high point’ continues to move through villages to the east of Bedford.

Bedford Borough Council and partners including Bedfordshire Police, Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue Service and volunteer groups are continuing to monitor the situation.

Local Facebook group, We Are Bedford, saw the busiest 48 hours in the group’s 10-year history, with nearly 900 membership requests since Christmas Eve.

“It’s evident that people see our group as the best place to find local support, guidance, information and even friendship,” said group admin, Michael Veness.

“We Are Bedford are very proud to have played a very small part in helping out, from providing up to the minute updates with photos and videos from members, to being able to provide immediate and changing information on support available from many organisations.

“This has been a vital support to many, as it is very difficult to gain such information during the Christmas holiday break.”

Amazing acts of kindness

The group witnessed some amazing acts of kindness from its members, with many offering to give up their Christmas day to help, and others offering food, hot drinks and even somewhere to stay for anyone who had been evacuated.

“To see all of that in action at this special time of the year is both humbling and heartwarming, in equal measure,” said Michael.

“It shows the humanitarian side to Bedford that should be praised and cherished. Something we can all be proud of.”

Likewise, the Bedford Kindness Facebook group saw dozens of offers of help from the community and Rob Gous, with volunteers and admins from the group, made and distributed pillowcases filled with sand to protect homes.

 

We feel really blessed to be part of the community

Victoria Granger, of Church Lane, Harrold, told the Bedford Independent, how their village community rallied around to help her in their time of need.

“At 10pm on Christmas Eve we had a visit from the police issuing us with Flood Warning paperwork,” she said.

“At the time, the water was not near our house. The kids, who are 14 and nearly two, were in bed asleep, so we decided to bunker in and hope for the best.

“By midnight, the water was creeping closer. We started to get concerned as the water movement suddenly seemed to pick up speed, but we felt very isolated, there was nobody around to help, and no sandbags we issued.”

By 3am, the flood water was at the family’s doorstep.

“I sat by the window all night, watching the water approach my home feeling utterly helpless,” said Victoria. But help was at hand.

“A group of local villagers appeared wading down our road just after 3am checking that we were OK. I asked if they knew anywhere where we could get sandbags.

“They disappeared, and about 30 minutes later appeared dragging two builders’ sacks filled with sand through the water. They were really amazing.”

Victoria and her husband blocked up their front door and secured their house as best they could.

By 7am the water had reached their front door and they’d lost power in the ground floor of their house, with two sleeping children preparing to wake up for Christmas Day morning.

“Thankfully, we still had electricity upstairs,” said Victoria. “My husband managed to cable extension cables from upstairs to power our downstairs, including urgently needed coffee making facilities.

“Whilst the river water surrounded our home, we managed to excitedly open Christmas gifts together.

By mid-morning, the family started to receive phone calls and messages from people within the local community. “We were blown away,” Victoria told us.

“I mean, it was Christmas Day, yet people called asking if we needed anything? Were we ok? Could they cook our Christmas Dinner for us?

“Someone even took our toddler’s cloth nappies and laundered them for us. We feel really blessed to be part of the community in Harrold.

“When it counted, they really looked out for us. We’re disappointed, that even though the flood was predicted, that there weren’t sandbags available, or any clear directions of where to request some from.

“Thank goodness for an active local Facebook page where locals kept each other up to date.”

Victoria said the family are “counting their blessings” that they have only lost their washing machine and have even retrieved lost fish, found swimming in the floodwater on their driveway.


Waters are receding

“The peak of the water levels have now passed through Bedford, but our officers continue to be out monitoring the peak as it moves east and responding to requests for assistance,” added Bedford’s Mayor Dave Hodgson.

“Floodwaters remain across Bedford Borough so please take care and if you are going out please avoid them, they may be deeper than you think or contain unseen hazards.

If you need assistance, there is support and advice available via the Council’s floodline on 01234 718007.

“We would like to thank everyone involved, including all of the volunteers for their vital help and support through this incident, and also the many offers of help that have come through from the public.”

With floodwaters still high throughout the Borough, people are advised to stay vigilant if out and about and avoid driving or walking through floodwater.

For updates and advice visit about flood warnings visit flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/warnings

BFRS rescue three dogs

Crews from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) have also been supporting families displaced by the floods and helping to map and track the floodwaters.

In addition to helping humans, Brian (pictured below) is one of three dogs BFRS rescued in Harrold on Christmas Day.

Brian, a two-year-old Great Dane, was one of three dogs rescued in Harrold yesterday (Christmas Day) by Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue team. Credit: Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

“We have undertaken immediate rescues for those who couldn’t get out on their own,” said a BFRS spokesperson.

“We have also used our drone to help map the floods and to support planning and advice. We also supported leaflet drops to over 1,300 households in the affected area with advice and support.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service used specialist drone equipment to monitor rescue efforts and help map flooding. Credit: Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

“We have helped with sandbagging for a care home in Clapham and have deployed sandbags to the most vulnerable in the community. We also rescued three dogs.”

“We haven’t called our firefighters in [from Christmas leave] but we have had staff coming in and offering assistance to provide additional support to our control room.

“We have also supported strategic command with our partners to coordinate the resources across Bedfordshire.”

80 police officers diverted to keep residents safe

Bedfordshire Police say that at its peak, around 80 officers were working to keep local residents safe.

None were called back from leave, but many of those who were on shift chose to stay behind to help with the efforts.

Officers went house to house in the affected areas, doing leaflet drops and speaking with residents, and managing traffic away from flooded or blocked roads.

Patrols have also since been stepped up to keep a watching eye on empty properties.

Residents are advised that crime can still be reported in the usual way by calling 101 if non-urgent, but always call 999 in an emergency.

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire police added: “We are continuing to work in partnership with our colleagues at Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue, Bedford Borough Council, the Environment Agency and others, and although levels have peaked at Bedford, floodwaters remain high across Bedford Borough.

“We would ask residents to please take care and stay away from flooded areas. Don’t put yourself at risk by going too close to the water.

“The water may be deeper and colder than you expect, and there may also be strong currents or underwater debris.

“If you see someone in difficulty, do not put yourself at risk by trying to rescue them. Call 999 immediately.”

Further advice has also been issued from Bedford Borough Council.

“If you live in a part of the Borough affected by flooding and have been contacted and advised to leave your home due to the threat of flooding, emergency services and the local authority are strongly encouraging you to do so, if you can do so safely.

“The COVID-safe emergency assistance centre at Bedford International Athletic Stadium remains open for people who have to evacuate due to flooding, but do not have another location to go to at this time, but has seen limited use so far.

“Before evacuating, be sure to turn off gas, water and electricity and move any valuables upstairs. Only take what you need such as medication and any insurance documents.”

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