There are fewer of us, but when at the eye of the storm, we still make a difference
The devastating floods that swept through the Lincolnshire town of Wainfleet hit national headlines, but for Skegness Standard reporter Chrissie Redford some of the most important issues started once the media spotlight had moved on.
Two months worth of rain in two days saw the River Steeping burst its expensively reinforced banks on June 12. Images of the efforts of an RAF Chinook helicopter to block the breach with huge sandbags dropped in a delicate and daring operation went across the globe.
The Skegness Standard along with media from all over the country covered the major incident in depth. From the huge pumping operation staged by the Environment Agency to lower water levels in the Steeping to the incredible response from emergency services and resident who went to incredible lengths to help vulnerable and trapped members of the community.
It was an exhausting few days for Chrissie and the journalists on the scene.
Amid the devastation there were myriad stories of courage and kindness, from the carers ferried around by dinghy so elderly patients could get the support they needed to the neighbours that helped rescue Mr T the tortoise from his owners Wainfleet garden as the water levels rose. But in the days afterwards as the waters subsided and the sunshine replaced torrential rain concern and anger in the community grew.
Here Chrissie Redford gives her thoughts on how it feels when a disaster strikes one of the communities we serve…
“I remember crying when I read a resident’s comment on one of our stories shared on social media, describing how a Chinook helicopter, having battled over 24 hours to plug the breach in the River Steeping with ballast. did a 360 turn in a farewell ‘nod’ before flying off as if to say ‘we did it’.
Entering that ‘war zone’, it was inevitable that I, too, would be caught up in the emotions. From the moment the river breached, homes were flooded and the evacuation got underway, the news was so fast moving — and I was inundated with images and drone footage of the devastation, as well as updates from the emergency services and the information centre set up in Wainfleet town centre.
Other parts of the area were hit too — roads closed, rail services disrupted because the line was flooded, buses cancelled, schools closed — and it all had to be reported.
My ‘HQ’ to begin with was at home where I am based and my computer was on fire — some days starting before 6am as announcements were made as people started waking up. For the first few hours it proved the right choice to just get those updates out there as the relationships I built supporting the emergency services and the information centre made it easier to access all areas when I did visit without feeling ‘in the way’ and just a reporter looking for a story .
By then the town had a plan in place and it was easy to speak to officials and residents, as well as get the human interest stories — the volunteers filling sand bags, the rescue of Mr T the tortoise and the plight of an elderly couple in their 70s who were evacuated into a car home in Skegness with their little dog Snuffy.
Their story is just one of the examples of the amazing community spirit in the town — they had no insurance or relatives to support them, only each other. The man’s wife has dementia and he was very distressed and proud but overwhelmed by people’s generosity, as they had no time to take anything with them.
They are the couple, now living in a caravan donated by the Rotary club, that our newspaper will be following through the coming months — having secured a hamper for little dog — including basket, collar and lead and food and toys — from Jollyes pet store as it opened in the town at the same time and we were also running their promotion.
As the water levels fell. the following weekend provided the opportunity to go into the homes of people who were flooded — one couple had lived in their home nine years and had recently bought it and started renovating it — it was all ruined.
After the shock and amazing community spirit came the anger and questions — and a very heated public meeting with the local MP and representatives of the Environment Agency. An independent investigation has been launched and that is where we are now.
The frequency of the stories may have reduced but the recovery will take months and it is now important the community does not feel forgotten. Now is the time that many flood victims lifted by the community spirit, initially, can become overwhelmed by the task ahead and even become sick. As a local newspaper and website, we can play a part in showing them they are not forgotten, and that they can read the answers following the investigation as to why it happened , as well as get assurance they will not go through anything like this again.
As their local reporter I have been proud to have been able to support the community and show our ‘Trusted news since 1922’ Masthead means we really are at the heart of our community.
Yes, I didn’t get much sleep for a few days like so many, I discovered my ‘Dubarrys’ had sprung a leak while wading through a street and I didn’t see a weekend — but the look on the old couple’s face when we needed two people to get the Jollyes’ hamper in the car made it all worthwhile. There may not be so many of us in offices any more, but from the feedback I have received, we can still make a difference when we are most needed.