Firefighters from London, Surrey and Kent volunteer for the big north Norfolk floods clean-up

Fire fighters from all over the country who have volunteered their services to help with the flood clear up in Walcott.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Fire fighters from all over the country who have volunteered their services to help with the flood clear up in Walcott. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
7:30 AM

Cheery volunteer crews of firefighters from London, Surrey and Kent are mingling with their Norfolk colleagues and the rest of the clean-up workforce which has descended on flood-ravaged Walcott this week.

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Floods round-up

All but five people made homeless in the Walcott and Bacton areas as a result of the storm surge have now been found temporary accommodation with help from North Norfolk District Council (NNDC).

Tom FitzPatrick, NNDC leader, said the council’s housing team had begun with a list of 19 but had gradually whittled it down. Temporary homes have included hotels, chalets and bed and breakfast accommodation.

Some people had made their own arrangements, staying with friends and relatives.

■ Improving defences along north Norfolk’s vulnerable coast is a “must” for the future, according to Eric Seward, whose Norfolk County Council seat includes Walcott.

“We need to help people make their houses more resilient. We have to accept that the weather is getting more volatile and these surges could happen more often. We need to try and improve sea defences, particularly for lower surges,” he said.

Measures such as a brick wall built in front of a property - which had stopped the sea breaking through the doors of the seafront Mace shop - and raising caravans higher were among many possibilities.

■ Kind-hearted people had donated more clothes, blankets and furniture to Walcott than organisers could cope with, according to Pauline Porter, Walcott Community Resilience Co-ordinator and chairman of the parish council.

Mrs Porter said the goods were being stock-piled and she urged those who wanted to give, to donate money instead to the EDP’s appeal.

While many flood victims were coping well, Mrs Porter said others simply did not know where to start.

Psychologist Kath Temple, of the Happiness Foundation, had visited the village three times to offer counselling and more help was available to those who were traumatised.

Mrs Porter said there had also been an element of “survivor guilt” in the village, with some of those who had not been affected finding themselves bursting into tears for no reason.

Up to 25 men and women at a time - plus fire dog Dylan the spaniel - have been in the north Norfolk coastal village since Friday helping the community reclaim homes devastated by sea, sand, mud and sewage.

The clean-up operation, based in Walcott Village Hall, has seen the firefighters, who also include members of Norfolk’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, tackling a long “task list” of about 40 jobs.

They have included checking electrical installations, shoring up unsafe buildings, boarding up damaged properties, collecting items washed away in the storm surge, and shovelling away huge quantities of sand and shingle from the village.

“It’s a good example of the ethos of the Fire and Rescue Service - we are here to help,” said Andy Heginbotham, group manager with Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, who has been helping co-ordinate the volunteers.

“The destruction, particularly to properties along the seafront and beyond, has been significant. Homes have been destroyed and so much property and belongings have either been washed completely away or damaged beyond repair.

“If we can get the sand and gravel out of their homes so that they can get the electric back on and start moving furniture back in, it makes them feel more comfortable and that has been the most rewarding part of the work for us.”

Retired London firefighter Steve James has spent the past 12 years organising charity events, mainly for the 9/11 firefighters’ fund in the USA.

“We heard about what had happened on our own country’s East coast and we wanted to help,” said Mr James.

“This is what we do and what we are good at. We all like working together - there isn’t a lot that can faze us. We hope we have played a little part in helping the community so that they can move forward from here.”

Local businesses are also doing their bit. The firefighters are staying at the Castaways Holiday Park, Bacton, and are being fed by The Lighthouse pub, Walcott, and the village’s Kingfisher Fish Bar - all for free.

The team expect to finish major work in Walcott today and will remain in Norfolk until Sunday, helping other affected communities along the coast, returning to Walcott at the end of the week to see if any further help is needed.

Dan Roper, cabinet member for public protection at Norfolk County Council, said: “It is heart-warming to know that in times of need people come forward and give up their own time to help others.”

■ The Backdrafts band, made up of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service staff, will stage a fund-raising event at The Lighthouse pub on December 22 at 4pm to raise money for those affected by the floods.

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