16 May 2014

How one Surrey street was torn apart by February’s floods

In February, Channel 4 News reported from Ayebridges Avenue, near Staines, as residents reeled under the devastation of flooding. Three months on, many of them have still not returned.

Three months ago this week, Vera Randall-Noyce (see video above) was watching TV at home in Egham, near Staines. As dusk fell, she went out into the hallway – and saw water seeping into her hallway in two streams from the front door.

The council sandbags, provided as flood defence, were not up to the job. And Vera’s house – like many in her street – is a bungalow, so the rising tide threatened everything she possessed.

Minutes after stepping into the hallway, Vera made the decision to abandon her home. “I grabbed a small overnight bag, put some stuff in it, and dialled 999.” A fireman arrived and carried her to relative safety at the top of her road.

She had to spend a week with her son before the insurance company found somewhere for her to stay, and she has not spent a night in the house since. “It took forever,” she says of her insurer’s response.

In addition to the devastation of being forced out of her house, Vera must live away from home for most of the rest of this year.

The inside of her bungalow has now been dried out and stripped to the bare bricks, but she is still waiting for building contractors to tender for the work to return her bungalow to liveable condition. “I can’t see the end of it,” she says.

Every room ruined

Vera is one of a substantial number of Ayebridges Avenue residents who have no immediate prospect of returning home.

Carol Jenner (see video above) lived next door to Vera with her husband, who has multiple sclerosis, and 11-year-old daughter.

“The main thing for me was just to get my husband out of the place as quickly as possible,” she recalls. “I had to get him in the car while I could still get the car right up to the door.”

The water was really deep, waist-high in the road, knee-high throughout the bungalow. Every room ruined. basically. Carol Jenner

When she returned the next day, Carol was greeted by a scene of devastation. “It was really deep, waist-high in the road, knee-high throughout the bungalow. Every room ruined, basically.”

She says her insurers have been “reasonably supportive”, but the challenge has been to find temporary lodgings with the facilities to help a grown man with MS.

In the longer term, Carol’s concern is that she and her family should never again go through what they suffered in February. Before she moves back to Ayebridges Avenue, she wants to raise the floor level and the roof line – a modification the council has always rejected in the past.

She hopes a joint submission by the owners of several of the flooded bungalows will sway the authorities and allow residents to “take control” in alleviating the threat of future flooding.

Read more: UK floods 2014 - special report

‘I’ve got to leave my home’

Everyone from Ayebridges Avenue who spoke to Channel 4 News has a different memory of the events of mid-February. The one thing they all talk about with a shudder is the moment they realised they had to abandon their home.

The words of Andrea Batty (see video above), a single mother who lived on the other side of the road not far down from Vera and Carol, say it all.

“I got a text from my neighbour at half past three in the morning, saying ‘We’re leaving.'”

“And then I went and looked outside the window. The water was coming just up to the top step.

I just burst out crying ’cause then it hit me: I’ve got to leave my home. Andrea Batty

“It was really eerie. Quite and dark. The fire brigade were just coming up the road with the boat. And they came over to see me, and he says: ‘I’m taking your neighbours. Do you want to come?’

“And I just burst out crying ’cause then it hit me: I’ve got to leave my home.”

For Andrea, the nightmare of departure has been eased by the response of her insurers.

“They’ve been absolutely brilliant,” she says. “You know, they phone me up, make sure I’m OK. They’ve employed a good surveyor who phoned me up and makes sure that I’m fine.

“I just feel they’re holding my hand and seeing me through the way. As a single parent, that’s what I need.”

Insurers’ ‘crucial role’

These words highlight another line to emerge from the experiences of Ayebridges Avenue residents: the different responses of insurance companies. Vera Randall-Noyce clearly feels let down by the way she has been treated, while Andrea Batty says her insurers have been “fantastic”.

And there are stories of other people in the street who could not secure flood insurance, despite the fact that the Thames is more than a mile away, because of a brook that runs along the back of one side of the street – the brook which eventually rose up and flooded the houses.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers told Channel 4 News: “Insurers and loss adjusters are playing a crucial role in the recovery process.

Insurers are working around the clock to ensure that the drying-out process is completed as quickly as possible. Association of British Insurers

“A badly flooded property can take months to become habitable again, so insurers continue working around the clock to ensure that the drying out process is completed as quickly and as safely as possible.”

To share their memories of what happened in February, and to talk about what they need to do to stop such events in the future, the residents met up last week in a nearby pub. After being forced out of their houses and into temporary accommodation, many had not seen one another for several months.

Elaine Morris, who spoke to Channel 4 News several times during the flooding, led the meeting (see video above) and urged people to contact their local MP – Defence Secretary Philip Hammond – to ask what was being done to ease the threat of future floods.

With some facing the prospect of nearly a year away from home before they return, residents of Ayebridges Avenue will not want to go into another winter without some assurance that their lives are not devastated a second time.

All filming by Kamali Melbourne

Below: our Channel 4 News report from 13 February 2014