Communities rally together as Calder Valley hit by worst floods in a generation

Households and businesses have been left counting the cost of some of Calderdale’s worst floods in living memory.

Thursday, 31st December 2015, 6:00 am
Boxing day flood in Hebden Bridge. Lloyds Bank an island in Albert Street.
Boxing day flood in Hebden Bridge. Lloyds Bank an island in Albert Street.

Elland, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge woke up on Boxing Day to flood waters of up to 6ft, with homes and businesses devastated and communities cut off.

But an army of volunteers is now heading a huge clean-up campaign to make these areas fit to live in once more.

One area which had more than its fair share of flooding is Elland, where homes were evacuated in the early hours of Tuesday morning as Elland Bridge began to collapse.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, structural engineers from Calderdale Council, the gas board, electricity board and emergency engineers were called out after midnight to the bridge as the road surface began to sink.

Laura and Lee Shaw, who live in Park Road, are using their house, which was partially damaged by the floods, as a hub for donations for people living in the area. They said it was the worst flooding they had ever seen.

“It has almost completely filled our cellar,” said Laura. “So we have no electricity or water, but there are people on the street whose homes have been completely ruined – there are skips full of people’s belongings, their houses are having to be completely gutted.”

Lee, who has lived in the area all his life, said: “It is the worst thing that has ever happened to Elland. This was around three times as bad as the floods we had here in 2008. People’s homes have been ruined.”

Hebden Bridge is always one of the worst-hit areas, with many of its streets submerged under water.

But the town wasted no time in getting back on its feet, and a spokesman for Hebden Bridge Town Hall said on Tuesday: “The water seems to have drained away now, and we have had lots of offers of help from all over the country.”

It was a similar story in Sowerby Bridge, where resident Sara-Jo Cooper said she saw cars and camper-vans washed away in the deluge.

“This is the first time this has happened to Sowerby Bridge in decades,” she said. “We have canals running into rivers and many people’s houses have been completely trashed.”

Emergency services were called to Sowerby Street, near Tesco, after flooding at a substation sparked an explosion on Tuesday morning.

Copley Bridge, over the River Calder at Copley, collapsed due to the force of the floods. The road serves a house which is now cut off from Copley.

At the time of writing, half of the bridge is still standing, with parts dropping into the river. The Grade II listed structure dates back to 1831.

It wasn’t just homes and roads that were affected, as businesses too felt the devastating impact of the floods. Upholstery firm Vale Bridgecraft in Mytholmroyd, which employs more than 70 people, saw much of its stock and warehouse completely ruined.

Company MD Stuart Chadwick said: “We had around five feet of water through the building and the effect on us is massive.

“We had between 50 and 60 suites in the warehouse that will now need to be remade. Luckily we are insured for that, but we aren’t insured for everything as we weren’t able to get fully covered after the 2008 floods.”

He estimated the water will have caused around £300,000-£500,000 worth of damage, but stressed that outstanding orders will still be honoured, only later than planned.

But help is on hand for the people of Calderdale.

Steve Duncan, who is leading the Calderdale flood relief appeal, said at the time of writing, that around £175,000 had already been raised for victims of the floods.

“We will need at least £250,000,” he added. “We have already had hundreds of applications from people needing help. We have people stuck in their homes with no food, running water or electricity, and we have to get the help out to them.”

He said the huge response from people donating their money and time was not surprising.

“Am I shocked? Of course not,” he said. “The people of Calderdale are the most generous around, whether it be people donating money, or just turning up with brushes and shovels.

“If anybody wants to help, they can either donate cleaning products and tinned food, donate money to the appeal, or simply donate their time to help out where and when they can.”

Bilal Munir, from the Islam Halifax Centre, said: “Our doors were open but there was nobody needing to use our services, so we took the hot food we had down to Halifax Town Hall where a lot of people helping out those in need.”

Organisations from other parts of West Yorkshire are also throwing open their doors and helping out those affected by the floods.

Chairman of the Batley-based Indian Muslim Welfare Society Mohamed Mulla said: “The Indian Muslim Welfare Society would like to open the Al-Hikmah Centre to anyone affected by the recent floods around West Yorkshire who are in need of a warm and dry place to stay.”

Volunteers from Batley and Dewsbury rolled up their sleeves to help those facing the devastation. when the Al Mubarak Foundation and One Nation turned out to Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden on Monday.

They helped one man dismantle his soaked kitchen units before clearing a home for the elderly where the water was “knee-high”.

The volunteers had previously helped families affected in Cumbria and were due to carry on with their efforts throughout this week.

A foundation spokesman said: “Nobody was in a panic or angry, everyone was helping one another. Everyone was hugging each other and thanking everybody for helping.”

Batley-based charity One Nation also took to Calderdale to help out with flood relief efforts.

Arshad Patel, from One Nation, said: “We visited the Sowerby Bridge church to coordinate relief efforts with the team there. It was amazing to see so many volunteers wanting to help and all the teams got split up into different groups to cover different areas. Some went to Copley, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Mytholmroyd.

“We then visited Hebden Bridge Town Hall where it was jam packed again where we were asked us to visit the Nanholme Mills area. There we saw family homes and businesses which had been under a metre of water.

“Near Tordmorden, some home’s basements were flooded and so we then headed over to a gentleman’s home where his kitchen was under water and had to be ripped out.”

Elland Round Table said they would be supporting the Halifax and Hebden Bridge RoundTables throughout the following week.

Members were some of the first volunteers on hand, spread along the valley from Brighouse to Hebden Bridge.

The group of men aged 18-45 will donate more than £1,000 to the flood relief fund that has been raised through their fundraising throughout 2015.

Elland, Halifax and Hebden Bridge Round Tables will continue their hard work in helping the recovery efforts. They will be joined by Round Table members from around the country to help with the efforts. This includes members from Cumbrian Round Tables.

Elland Round Table chairman Chris Henry said: “We raise money throughout the year to support local good causes and when a disaster on this scale hit in your region it is a matter of getting down to business.

“We have donated £1,000 to the fund and have members working day and night to help get our local people back on their feet.”

There was even time for a daring rescue in Mytholmroyd as flood waters engulfed the town centre.

A resident, who did not want to be named, said a man had to be rescued after he tried to drive a Land Rover into the water.

He said: “He turned left after coming over the bridge and we just watched horrified as his car was dragged back towards us.”

The man said emergency services had to use a boat to get to the stranded vehicle before smashing the sun-roof and pulling the driver from the car.

Calderdale Council said rapid financial support would be available for households and businesses affected by the floods.

Council tax payments will be suspended for up to six months for homes that are severely affected.

The council is asking for financial assistance from the Government and further details will be made available as soon as possible.

Business rates will also be suspended for up to six months, while the council is looking into providing grants and loans to help get businesses up and running. There will be detailed discussions with affected businesses about what would work best.

The council also said it is concerned about the lack of available insurance for householders and businesses and will ask the Government for an urgent solution.

Anyone needing a place to stay after being affected by the floods should contact Indian Muslim Welfare Society on Track Road, Batley, on 01924 500555 during normal working hours, or 07738 960512 at other times for information.

After the banks of the River Calder burst, other areas along its banks have also been affected.

The Ledgard Bridge stretch rose to 5.25m high, breaking the highest recorded level of 5.1m, while at Heaton Lodge it rose to 3.15m, where the record was 3.8m; and in Dewsbury it reached 5.61m, breaking the 5.41m record.

Businesses which had already been hit by floods earlier in the month , including the Ship pub on Steanard Lane, suffered once again.

A Kirklees Council statement read: “As a result of the heavy rain on Boxing Day and Monday, we received a number of calls about flooding to the road network in Kirklees. We also received requests for sandbags which we delivered where possible.

“Only a small number of reports were made about flooding affecting residential properties, and these came from across Kirklees.”

After the Met Office issued a yellow alert for heavy rain from Tuesday night to Wednesday afternoon, the council and emergency services were preparing for possible further flooding as a result and said they would respond appropriately.