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Apres nous, le deluge

On the morning of Saturday, June 9th, after a night of heavy rain, householders on the small estate  across the road from me awoke to find that the river Rheidol, swollen to record level, had managed to work its way around the high railway embankment between them and it, and was flooding their gardens and garages and, soon, their ground floor rooms; to a depth, it must be admitted, of only a few inches. No less alarming for that.

Fire crews had arrived, and were pumping furiously, to little avail. This went on for three days, even after the waters had subsided elsewhere, as the estate had been built, probably corruptly, in a low-lying flood catchment designed for the express purpose of holding the river back to prevent the town itself being inundated in case of a once-in-100-years event like this. It had done its job.

Today is Sunday, September 2nd, and most of the householders have still not returned to their homes. Some may never do so. The fear of disease carried in the muddy water, the mess, the upheaval of sodden chipboard floors, the smell of mouldering soft furnishings, the endless delays of insurance companies — for whatever reason, the people are no longer there, except on days like today, when they straggle back to view the dismally slow progress of restoration being carried out by whistling tradesmen from a seemingly unending armada of white vans, and to pile more useless and unwanted possessions in bags and skips on their front lawns.

It probably took less time to build the houses in the first place.

Quite a few of the people of Cockermouth, in Cumbria, and Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, driven from their homes by far more serious flooding in recent years, are still living in caravans, awaiting salvation. Whether because they were uninsured, or for whatever reason, they are refugees in their own communities, a warning to the rest of us of the impermanence of social institutions and the folly of possessions.

Here endeth the lesson.


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