In the late evening of last Friday 5th and the early hours of Saturday 6th September the residents of Morpeth started to become more concerned about the heavy rainfall that was falling on their Northumberland town. The environmental agency had issued flood warnings as the River Wansbeck began to rise to alarming levels. Sandbags were hastily placed to try and offer some protection to homes and businesses, some residents moved their cars to higher ground where friends lived as the water began to flow over the banks of the river.
Suddenly the water began to rush through the surrounding streets, a fast flowing torrent engulfed everything in it’s path – homes were swamped, with water rising to 3 or 4 foot in some, casting furniture and belongings aside with little effort, local pubs and businesses along the river found their cellars quickly filled with dirty, dark river water, ruining their stock and as cars were damaged and hit by floating debris elderley people were quickly evacuated to temporary shelters by members of the RNLI and Police and Fire services.
On Sunday morning myself and fellow photographer Matt Kirwan ( http://www.mattkirwan.co.uk/ ) drove to Morpeth to document the aftermath of the floods and tried to record some of the devastation brought on this town and how it affected the residents in what turned out to be the worst floods experienced in some 40 years…
Road signs telling of the dangers remained in place highlighting the disruption.
Front doors of houses in Carlisle View, a street right on the banks of the River Wansbeck suffered some of the worst damage, looking closely you can see the water level reached over the letter boxes.
As the water level dropped a young child in bright rain gear walks along the edge of a flooded street. From reports in the media there were no serious injuries as a result of the flooding.
This man had returned from holiday the day before to find the flooding at its peak, hastily trying to salvage some of his property he moved it upstairs in an attempt to save it, although many of his belongings were destroyed by the river water and all he can do now is begin the long process of cleaning up. The house next door belongs to his mother, she was also on holiday at the time of the flooding and has yet to return to her home.
Tom Donnelly, Morpeth resident and local businessman surveys the damage to his boats on the River Wansbeck. He has run a rowing boat hire business on the banks of the river for 24 years. Mr Donnelly said that it was the worst flooding he had ever seen. As the river levels increased and the risk of more serious flooding became more apparant he was forced to sink some of his boats to ensure they weren’t ripped from their moorings with the force of the water.
Local residents make their way through the flooded streets of Morpeth on Sunday morning as the flood waters slowly begin to recede.
The force of the water rushing through the town caused severe damage to several public buildings. The church was flooded as was the Health Centre and Ambulance station. The public library also suffered damage as the windows were smashed by the force of the water and shelves of books were flung all over the building.
Local resident Helen Patton also returned to her home from her daughters’ house to try and salvage what she could from the chaos. As the floodwater hit her furniture was scattered all around her front room only settling once the water receded. Her bathroom was covered in a thick layer of sludge and all her ground floor carpets were ruined. Family photo albums were destroyed along with other personal items .
A resident waits for word from other family members who have returned to their home to search for any personal items that might have survived.
Cars caught in the rising flood waters.
A young girl sits on a damaged piece of furniture, prepared for more rain.
A grandaughter greets her grandmother in knee deep flood water after she returns from her flood damaged home following her rescue attempt to save ‘Milly’, her cat, carried to safety by a police officer.
The effects of this flood will be far reaching for local residents, many people were forced to evacuate to safer and drier ground, homes were severly damaged and will take many months to be repaired and returned to how they were before the flood. In covering this event it was strange how, despite suffering from this flood how open people were when talking about the damage that had been caused to their homes and their property. Many invited you in, a complete stranger, and then allowed me to photograph their homes and the damage. It was like they wanted to talk, to vent their frustrations, their concerns.
It was a shame that we couldn’t spend more time there, to hear more stories, to glimpse more into the lives of someone else. It’s a unique thing to be allowed this opportunity. Initially you feel almost like a voyeur, you feel a little awkward, you feel like you shouldn’t be there. But then you start taking pictures and it develops from there. A comment or a look leads to a conversation and the connection is made. Press work, by it’s nature is fleeting, you go in, shoot the pictures and then go. Probably to another job. I want to start to develop these stories further, to see them through to their natural conclusion or to a point where you can’t take it any further.
That’s why photojournalism has always held such an appeal.