Scrap merchants circling “like vultures”, asbestos discovered in houses and a carbon monoxide leak are among the issues Solihull’s flood victims had to cope with following a deluge earlier this year.
Residents of Nethercote Gardens, among the borough streets worst affected by the downpour on May 27, last night told councillors that the community was still picking up the pieces more than five months on.
Laura Yates and Lucy Clark, who helped set up a residents’ association in the wake of the devastation, gave a heartfelt account of the “awful” conditions on the day and the raft of problems people have dealt with since.
In response, Solihull Council officers said they had worked very hard to “build trust” in around a dozen areas affected by flooding and had conducted an extensive investigation into the issues which engulfed hundreds of families.
Although concerns linger locally about the impact new housing may have had on floodplains and whether a similar incident will happen again.
Laura, 38, who has lived in Nethercote Gardens on and off since 2002, described the feeling of panic when water swept in within half an hour.
“I think what was striking for me was how quickly it happened,” the self-employed mum said.
“In less time than we’ve been sitting here ... the pavement outside the house was dry to water being inside my house and the contents being ruined.
“My son was screaming, literally screaming, out the window … he was in absolute fits because the wheelie bins were all going down the road. It was biblical it must have seemed to him really.”
She said that while she felt “a bit sorry” for council staff swamped by frustrated residents in the days that followed, there was a sense of “what good is this now?”
The meeting heard there was widespread confusion, with residents worried about electrical appliances, whether the water was safe to drink and struggling with insurance companies.
“In the days after, there’s the sort of practical stuff and the safety stuff," said Laura. "One of our resident’s families suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Had they not of had all of their windows open for days in an attempt to dry out the flood they literally could have been killed.”
Her neighbour Lucy, who has lived in the road all her life, had recalled the water coming in like the tide from the direction of Colebrook Road.
“I remember how surreal the whole thing was,” said the 33-year-old. “My youngest daughter was only two-weeks-old at the time and my toddler was already asleep in bed.
“By the time we had flooded, all of the sandbags that were provided by the council had been used by other residents and we were completely defenceless against the water.”
The mum-of-two said that some locals would not be able to return home until after Christmas, one family was relying on a caravan on their front lawn and another resident was still waiting for repairs to begin because of work needed to remove asbestos floor tiles.
“The effects on residents’ health has been visible, some have looked fit to drop, unbelievably stressed and the situation completely consumed them. We hope that the council will do all in their power to avoid this situation [recurring].”
She also said that the community had seen “an influx of scrapmen” following the floods.
“They were attracted by numerous skips full of written-off contents and building materials.
“Whilst we believe that some were genuine, others were most definitely not, arriving quite literally mob-handed, pulling things from skips and leaving them in pieces on the floor. It was quite intimidating."
Lucy had visited the NEC's Flood Expo in September to liaise with experts and the residents' association has also had a request approved by the local authority for a supply of additional flood sacks.
Edward Bradford, from Solihull Council, said that officers “fully understood” what people had been through and that the team had made multiple visits to affected areas.
“It’s something that relatives of mine have also also experienced, and friends … so I do know the impacts.
“When we come to work in the morning we want to try and help the people of the borough so it is something that since May we have been working very hard on.”
Cllr Diana Holl-Allen, chair of the stronger communities and neighbourhood services scrutiny board, said: “It was a scary experience, it must have been and you’re still reliving it to a certain extent.
“The difficulty we’ve got is it going to happen again? I’m sure we pray that it won’t, but by coming this evening … keeping us up to speed and trying to make us more prepared by working with all our partners, not least of course cabinet member, [we] can take these things on board and hopefully if it happens again we are more prepared.”