News that California is getting drenched this weekend owing to a rainstorm, with a potential inch falling on Sacramento, is pretty laughable to practically the entire population of the United Kingdom. Call that wet? Really? While it is great a drought may be averted, the so-called “drenching” sounds like a blessing. But does the state really get a lot of rain? It never rains in California; it pours, man, it pours.
In England, a child is now dead thanks to filthy floodwater. Seven-year-old Zane Gbnagbola has died and his parents remain in hospital. The young boy is thought to have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a pump taking water from the family’s home in Chertsey, Surrey. Fifteen others from the area, including two policemen, have also been hospitalized. Another theory for Gbnagbola’s death is that he may have been afflicted with Weil’s disease, a waterborne infection that comes from rat urine. Authorities have yet to establish the exact cause of the boy’s death.
Cornwall and Devon are now completely cut off from the rest of the country by rail as lines have been washed away, subsided or collapsed. Bus services are standing in. The most scenic railway journey in the south, the coastal route through Dawlish, is left hanging in mid air. The ancient clock tower at Kingsand, on the harbour, is unsafe, and will have to be demolished. All the boats have had to be lifted out of the sea at Porthleven, where many had already sunk, taking fishermen’s livelihoods down with them. People are advised not to travel at all. A large landslip in Somerset has now added to the devastation.
The clock tower joins the West Pier in Brighton, a Grade I listed pier, as a falling casualty to the elements. The pier lost a large section on Wednesday as it fell apart into the storm-blasted English Channel.
In the historic university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, officials brace for more chaotic flooding as the rain continues to fall, and more defenses go up. Drivers are advised not to drive through floodwater as dangerous roads have already closed. Firefighters had to rescue 37 children from a trapped school bus in Oxfordshire yesterday. The beautiful colleges of Cambridge along the river Cam are under threat as the river rises. Children, elderly and disabled had to be evacuated from their homes in deluged Saffron Walden. Others, including dogs, were later retrieved by rescue boats. A stranded lorry had water up to its cab roof, a visual emphasis as to just how deep the floodwater can get.
The south London district of Purley is turning a pedestrian underpass into an emergency pond to prevent tons of floodwater flowing through 400 at-risk buildings which, ironically, include a water treatment plant.
Wales has also been hit hard. There is already enormous damage to coastal railways, with tons of debris, broken track and sea walls. Cost of repairs is estimated to be around $15.7 million to date. Ferry services to Ireland have been cancelled again this weekend, and Wales has amber flood warnings across all 14 counties. Sixty four thousand homes had no power as of Sunday. Residents of California who are welcoming the relief of some rainfall, and gathering it in trash cans, are at the other end of the spectrum to the super-saturated United Kingdom.
People living on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset have been told to stay upstairs and be prepared to evacuate as the record-breaking spell of extreme wet weather shows no signs of abating, and yet another storm drives in. The army has been present, with five bulldozers, trying to shore up some defense against the sea. The 80 mph winds are capable of knocking people over.
Meanwhile, in the most reported area, the Somerset Levels, flight visits from the Prime Minister and Head of the Environment Agency Lord Smith have done little to alleviate the deep distress of the villagers over the appalling conditions they have been left to live in for months now. The government has now admitted it was wrong not to dredge the levels. Farmers and others put in appeals as far back as six months, but funding was declined.
The BBC Weather Centre says there is “no real end in sight” for the continuing bad weather of biblical proportions. Another area of low pressure has formed and heavy rain will come with it, including some wintry showers. There are currently 180 flood warnings and 300 flood alerts. The very real misery for millions of Britons continues. The country has not had to endure conditions like this since 1766.
An emergency COBRA meeting is being chaired at 10 Downing Street to try to ameliorate the ongoing crisis. Somewhat ironically, 10 Downing Street is now on the list of properties at risk from flash flooding.
It may be wet in California this weekend, but if you want to see some serious rainfall, look across the pond.
By Kate Henderson