There’s a period between Christmas and New Year that for a lot of people, becomes unreal, a time outside of time.
You even struggle to remember what day it is. But this year it was different for many people in York. Their only thought about time was “how many hours of daylight are left?” as they battled against the aftermath of a flood.
Take Georgia Bijister and her partner Gael, just one couple among the many victims of the York floods.
They had left behind a run-down rented property for a lovely cosy house in Fossgate in York city centre – closer to her job, closer to his job, and easier to get to Leeds where she is studying law.
With the help of family and friends they moved in on the Monday before Christmas, getting the decorations up just in time. Everything was looking good.
‘The Foss never floods’
They were both working on Christmas Day. But on Boxing Day they could finally relax.
Except they watched the river level outside their windows rise. But their letting agency telling had told them: “Don’t worry, the Foss never floods.”
With no further advice, no sandbags, no contact from anyone, they created a homemade flood defence. It held against rising river waters.
The drain outside the front door, which had debris around it as if it had already suffered a small flood recently, did not. Nor did the basement which housed the electrics for four houses, a number of flats and a business.
On Boxing Day she resolved to sleep on the sofa with an hourly alarm set to check the flood water. At 5am all was clear.
At 5.45am she was woken by cold water covering her feet – just 45 minutes from dry, to the drain flooding the courtyard outside and pouring into several houses – and the basement was almost completely underwater.
The letting agency hadn’t the means to help her as their own paperwork store was flooding too.
Two feet of dirty water
The new house had two feet of water in it, dirty water bearing debris inside whenever the door was opened. There was no electricity, no way to cook even if any of the food in the house was edible, not even a working toilet.
She had to wait another three days before she had confirmation that she had somewhere to go. In this time nobody had contacted her despite desperate messages being left, other than a patrol telling her she wasn’t a high enough priority to receive help.
Even the overheating electrics in a water-filled room were not considered dangerous until a fire broke out and the fire brigade were called on December 29. And the only reason it was dealt with after that was because a Powergrid patrol stepped in.
Having previously been told that there were no pumps to spare, one was finally found just as the last load of her possessions – those that were salvageable that is – were sat in a car waiting to go to the temporary accommodation.
It was a moment that would have broken most people. Instead Georgia laughed because if not, she would have cried. There aren’t many people who, in the middle of a flood, can also have a fire!
As if the flood, move and fire weren’t enough, ghoulish sightseers walked in to the private courtyard where she lived to take photographs of her own personal disasters.
Hours were wasted
There wasn’t even the option of sandbagging her property, or the basement, as a promised delivery of sandbags (four days after the flood started) never materialised.
It was only through the help of a friend who had been helping make sandbags that she had managed to get any for her own property, but more were promised for her neighbours. They are still to arrive.
With no phone line, no internet, no information from her agency on arrival and a constantly engaged helpline she had no idea what she should do next, and didn’t press it further knowing there were a lot of vulnerable people in greater need.
Hours were wasted trying to get through to somebody, anybody, who could tell her what we happen next (beyond an initial “you’re not a priority so you won’t be rehomed”).
Most information seems to be online and therefore inaccessible to a lot of people at this time. It’s not that help isn’t there; it’s just hard to find, or to know what the next stage is.
Now Georgia and Gael are in a temporary house and a possible wait of several months to when – if – they can move back in.
With only a day to move out (and a short day at that at this time of year) she has had to abandon furniture, all of the food in the house, personal possessions, and irreplaceable memories.
Throw into the mix studying, working, imminent exams, and the knowledge that whilst you are suffering you are low on the priority list and it’s amazing that she can still find the strength to laugh.