In October 2018, Storm Callum hit Wales causing some of the worst flooding in thirty years. Not two years later, those same communities have been hit even harder by the double blow of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, with pictures from across the south of the country showing burst banks, breached defences, and unprecedented impact.
Initial reports from Pontypridd in the South Wales valleys, one of the worst hit areas, estimate more than 600 people have been displaced, with over 1,000 homes damaged. One of the main issues affecting locals is a lack of home insurance, leaving people struggling to get back on their feet. “Parts of my constituency are some of the most economically deprived in Wales,” says Alex Davies-Jones, MP for Pontypridd, who describes insurance as “a luxury that people can’t afford,” explaining that many of the homes affected are social housing.
I have been in touch with RCT council today (and yesterday, and the day before) on behalf of the Trehafod community in…
This is before considering whether flood insurance is available in the first place. For houses on Pontypridd’s Berw Road, one of the worst-hit areas, their proximity to the River Taff means coverage is either unavailable or, as Alex says, prohibitively expensive. Local councillor Eleri Griffiths has echoed the same sentiments, posting on Facebook that many of the affected residents she has met in nearby Trehafod have no insurance, estimating around 50 houses that have been damaged. Nearby rugby club Bedwas RFC, which sits alongside the River Rhymney, have had to set up a crowdfunder to save their club after being told their insurance won’t cover the extensive damage they’ve received.
I don’t think even Rhondda Cynon Taf Council expected the river to breach the flood barriers.
While floods are common across South Wales, there’s a sense that the scale of those caused by the recent storms are on a different scale. Sian Llewellyn lived in Pontypridd for 25 years before moving to Cardiff last year, but told us that nobody expected the level of flooding the area received: “On Saturday evening I know several people called asking for sandbags but were told not to panic. I don’t think even Rhondda Cynon Taf Council expected the river to breach the flood barriers. The community were completely shocked.”
An hour north in Crickhowell, Emma Corfield-Waters, owner of independent bookshop Book-ish, told The Big Issue “residents haven’t seen flooding like this since 1979.” The town, which runs right along the banks of the River Usk, is predominantly connected by an 18th-century bridge, which isn’t equipped to deal with storms of this size. “The strengthening beams put in to support the increased traffic are almost acting as dams,” Emma says. “Water can’t get underneath, so it goes either side.” This has had a knock-on effect to Big Issue vendors in the area too, with one who sells in Crickhowell unable to make the journey due to damage on the roads.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
For those affected, community support is providing much needed ballast to the emergency relief put in place. “Over the weekend leisure centres were turned into overnight accommodation,” says Alex. “For those whose homes are now uninhabitable they are being housed in hotels, B&Bs, and at the homes of volunteers. Social housing providers are trying to help tenants, volunteers are donating food and toiletries. There’s been a huge community effort.”
The importance of this support can’t be overstated in rural communities. Across the area there are stories of people working to get businesses back up and running and to provide shelter to those who need it, plumbers and electricians offering their services free of charge, and several crowdfunding campaigns raising more than £30,000 overnight. “It’s what we’ve always done, and what we’ll always continue to do,” says Alex, but with this the second serious instance of flooding in as many years, there’s the question of what measures are being put in place going forward in areas where some flood defences are over 30 years old. Andrew Morgan, leader of the Rhondda Cynon Taf council, has established a recovery board to support repairs and investment required for infrastructure across the borough, releasing £1million from the council’s general fund. The board are set to meet twice weekly for the immediate future, with the first responsibility being to consider the community impact of the flooding.