Storm Babet destroyed homes like mine – we can’t allow this damage to happen again

On Friday October 20, I woke up early in a bed that wasn’t my own. My wife and I had decided to leave our house the previous evening due to Storm Babet flood warnings.

Before we turned in for the night, we’d felt anxious but not panicked. Our home had never been affected by high water before, and we’d laid sandbags down in doorways as a precaution. I’d actually wondered if it was a bit over the top. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I’d remarked when we pulled out of the driveway.

As we blinked the sleep from our eyes that Friday morning, a text came through from a neighbour confirming our worst fears: “It’s as tall as me out the back, it’s flooding through the back doors.” We felt sick. “What? No – it can’t be true.” But it was.

Social media was awash with surreal images of flooding. Before long, we were sent photos showing murky brown water on the ground floor of our own property, up to knee height. Our furniture, flooring, white goods and cupboards were ruined.

In the afternoon, I managed to gain access to our house and see the damage up close. Most of the water had drained away or soaked into the floor by then, leaving a rank, gelatinous layer of mud everywhere. As I trudged slowly through my saturated living room, hallway, kitchen, and office, I couldn’t quite accept what my eyes were telling me.

How on earth could this have happened? We’d been blindsided. One day we were living ordinary life, the next we were living out of a suitcase.

As I stood reeling in my waterlogged home, I knew that many others in the north-east were experiencing similar heartbreak. Storm Babet had unleashed voluminous quantities of rain on Angus, the Mearns and Aberdeenshire over a dangerously short period of time.

Rivers burst their banks, flooding hundreds of homes and businesses. Crops were ruined. Roads and historic bridges were damaged. Most tragically of all, three people lost their lives in the area. It was staggering to comprehend.

Flooding victims need compassion and financial support

Brechin experienced the worst damage. In the days surrounding Storm Babet, news reporters stood near the South Esk, which had surged over multimillion-pound flood defences, forcing hundreds of residents from their homes.

I’ve since walked the streets affected by flooding and encountered people whose worlds have collapsed. Not all Brechiners were insured. Pensioners and others in financially vulnerable situations are looking at irrecoverable losses. It’s devastating.

As a freelance journalist, I often portray the experiences of others from the outside but, in this case, I’m one of the people in the story. Like many others in my area, I’ve been hit by a whirlwind of emotions: shock, sadness, disbelief, anxiety.

The flooding didn’t feel real at first, then it did – painfully real. I know our family has a long journey ahead of us. Serious work is needed to repair the damage. Our insurance should cover it, but we’ll be out of our home for some time.

I feel deep sadness for those whose homes have been destroyed – particularly in Brechin, where residents were relying on much-lauded £16 million flood defences. Locals say insurance was either not possible or not affordable in the area bordering the South Esk river. This seems like an injustice to me.

If an area prone to flooding has been given a bespoke flood prevention scheme, this should allow people to access insurance. The fact Brechiners didn’t get such access in the years after the scheme was completed means they are suffering today.

Storm Babet is being described as an unprecedented event that couldn’t have been mitigated against. If that’s true, I’d say this makes flooding victims in places like Brechin even more deserving of compassion and financial support.

I have never felt prouder to be a son of the Mearns

In the months ahead, central and local government must ensure that vulnerable Scots have the means necessary to rebuild their lives. Serious money should also be allocated to flood defence projects in high-risk areas so that the flooding we’ve seen in recent days cannot happen again.

Lawmakers must consider a range of measures, examining evidence from around the world on which infrastructure will stand the test of time. Then, they must act – for future generations.

I have never felt prouder to be a son of the Mearns. In the wake of Storm Babet, local communities have come together in a truly special way. Volunteers have flocked to help crisis-hit homes and businesses.

Tens of thousands of pounds have been donated by the public to assist the most vulnerable. The kindness of neighbours has been a lifeline for those worst affected. It is moving to see people acting in this way.

I’ve been touched by the dozens of messages we’ve received; the love of friends and family; the prayers of fellow Christians; the well-wishes and concern of people I don’t know too well – P&J staff included. It’s humbling.

I hope others in my situation are receiving similar support. If you’re affected, help is available from local authorities and charities. Churches across the north-east also stand ready to offer pastoral support to all who seek it. If you would like to donate to Brechin flooding victims, you can do so via the Brechin Flood relief GoFundMe page online

This article was first published in the Press and Journal on 26 October 2023

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