There are only two ways to reach the end of George Street in the heart of the market town of Snaith – ‘gateway to East Yorkshire’.
You can either borrow a dinghy from the fire station round the corner (a mini-fleet of bright red lifeboats have been commandeered) or put on fishing waders and venture into the flood water which has turned this residential road into a polluted, toxic lake.
The former was not really an option; the inflatables are reserved for emergencies.
Hence the reason I found myself up to my knees… then my stomach… then (almost) my shoulders, trudging gingerly through the freezing, murky depths of what used to be George Street, still three metres deep in the some spots. I’m 5ft 6ish.
You may have seen pictures of Snaith on TV in the wake of Storm Jorge, or similar images from other parts of the country. But only when you’re here – in my case, trying to avoid the possibility of plunging down an open manhole – does the scale of the catastrophe become truly apparent.
The village of Snaith in the East Roding of Yorkshire where floods have devastated the area. Pictured is Mail writer Paul Bracchi in the floodwaters of Snaith
Snaith is on a war footing.
The parish church has been turned into a refuge centre providing hot meals, drinks and clothes for families made homeless. A ‘command centre’ of firemen, police, Environment Agency staff and the Red Cross has been set up next to the council office. An army of workmen are inspecting drains, electricity cables and telephone lines.
Officials with clipboards are everywhere.
More than 100 properties were evacuated from Snaith and neighbouring East Cowick after the River Aire overflowed last week. Many of these residents remain in rented accommodation or are being put up by relatives and friends.
In George Street nearly 30 red-brick houses and bungalows will be uninhabitable for at least six months. Behind every sandbag there is a human drama or personal tragedy.
On my left, I pass a semi with water at the ground-floor window which has a ‘SOLD’ sign outside; not anymore. It belonged to a lady who died recently. Her daughter was due to exchange contracts on the £150,000 property. The buyer pulled out days after the flood.
You may have seen pictures of Snaith on TV in the wake of Storm Jorge, or similar images from other parts of the country. But only when you’re here – in my case, trying to avoid the possibility of plunging down an open manhole – does the scale of the catastrophe become truly apparent
A few doors up is the submerged bungalow belonging to Catherine and Kevin Lorryman (pictured above). Insurers are likely to decide it will be easier to demolish their home of 15 years and rebuild it.
Among the evacuees, I learn, are a pregnant woman and her boyfriend who were offered a one-bedroom flat 46 miles away in Hull by the council and newlyweds forced to seek help at the refuge centre at Priory Church, the place where they married just a couple of weeks earlier.
This is the reality of life in George Street, for the moment: British stoicism and making the best of a dreadful situation.
The eye is drawn to sagging greenhouses on the verge of collapse, drowned shrubberies, upturned garden furniture – and a little girl’s pink pedal car floating upside down on the filthy tide.
The only sound in this eerily silent section of George Street (on Wednesday, anyway) is from a two-up, two-down on the other side of the road to the Lorrymans.
The floods have contributed to a deep-seated sense of abandonment in the North generally, summed up by a local who accused Boris Johnson of ‘being too busy celebrating the fact he’s engaged and having another baby’ to visit
The owner has returned briefly to survey the mess. The downstairs resembled a dank, dark cave. The smell was putrefying.
Road and bridge closures virtually marooned Snaith and East Cowick (combined population, just under 4,000).
The floods have contributed to a deep-seated sense of abandonment in the North generally, summed up by a local who accused Boris Johnson of ‘being too busy celebrating the fact he’s engaged and having another baby’ to visit. The catastrophe has also focused attention on the fact that, according to some estimates, as many as one in ten homes over much of the past decade have been built in areas at risk of flooding. Nevertheless, developers have already submitted plans for more than 800 homes in Snaith and East Cowick.
The applications coincide with the East Riding of Yorkshire seeing 113mm of rain fall last month – 258 per cent more than in an average February. In Snaith and East Cowick blocked culverts under the rail track led to a lake almost the size of Windermere across the countryside.
Widower Stuart Mellard’s home in Gowdall Road was among the first hit. His daughter Lisa Deakin, together with her husband and brother, had just 20 minutes to get him to safety before his house was swamped. Mr Mellard, 76, who needs oxygen to move about, is staying with relatives in Hull. He is a victim twice over.
In 2000 his property suffered minor flood damage, so his insurance policy was not renewed. His next-door neighbours do, however, have flood cover. The damage to Mr Mellard’s home will cost at least £25,000 and will wipe out his life savings. ‘A lot of people’s livelihoods have been destroyed,’ said Mrs Deakin, 51.
Road and bridge closures virtually marooned Snaith and East Cowick (combined population, just under 4,000)
Jonathan Parris, who runs a car repair business down the road, is in the same position. The flood destroyed tens of thousands of pounds of engineering equipment and, more than a week on, his garage is still under 5ft of water. Mr Parris, 46, is now fighting to save his uninsured business. ‘I am devastated,’ he said.
At the same time Mr Parris was facing his ordeal, Kevin and Catherine Lorryman’s bungalow was being steadily submerged in George Street. The surge eventually reached No 53 a few hundred yards down the road. Debris was piled outside, including ruined carpets and a doormat, draped over sodden sandbags, bearing the words: ‘HOME SWEET HOME.’
The same apocalyptic scenes unfolded in East Cowick where one of the main residential roads – Back Lane – resembles George Street. Homes rely on oil-fired boilers here, not gas central heating, which has resulted in kerosene leaking into the flood water, compounding the contamination.
Michael Bray and his wife had to evacuate their home in Back Lane and move in with their daughter.
‘It has been very upsetting. My wife has been very emotional. There are lots of memories here,’ said Mr Bray, 71, a retired security worker.
‘We have probably lost possessions of sentimental value and I have no idea what the cost will be. But the community spirit has been fantastic.’
Back in Snaith, the community spirit he spoke of was very much in evidence at Priory Church. Pews were covered in donated clothes. Hot drinks and meals were being served by countless volunteers.
A banner, from children at the primary school, reminds us that ‘Alone We Can Do So Little, Together We Can Do So Much’.
Such resilience is possibly the only positive news to come out of Yorkshire in recent weeks.
n Insurers face a bill in the region of £400million for the thousands of homes and businesses wrecked by the floods caused by storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.
Additional reporting: Mark Branagan