At Midday on Saturday 5th December 2015 a request was received from Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association (LDSAMRA) enquiring what resource from Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation (PDMRO) could be made available to support ongoing flooding even in Cumbria. Each team in the Peak District sent confirmation of available resources to LDSAMRA and confirmed the peak district response and the rendezvous at Penrith.
The PDMRO Response consisted of 16 team members and equipment from Edale MRT, Glossop MRT, Derby MRT, Woodhead MRT and Kinder MRT.
As a team member of Edale MRT we contributed 1 Landrover including driver/controller, 3 Swift water rescue technicians, Inflatable Rescue sled and technical rope equipment. We started to prepare equipment from 1400 onwards on Saturday afternoon and hit the road for around 1630hrs.
The drive up to Penrith was extremely challenging with all reports via television and radio urging people to avoid travelling, the M6 was specifically difficult driving and there were numerous accidents on the route. The weather on route was gale force winds and torrential rain which increased in intensity as we drove closer towards the Lakes. Whilst driving I encountered 30 yards of very deep standing water on the inside lane of the M6 which thankfully we made through without incident.
We arrived at Penrith and Rendezvoused at the Fire Headquarters’ were other Mountain Rescue teams were also meeting up. We soon received our first tasking back south on the M6 to Shap for reported trapped motorists, whilst on route we were diverted to a higher priority call as it was reported that fire crews had already reached the motorists and were on dry land.
As the night progressed we were tasked to a variety of tasks including evacuating vulnerable residents from houses closest to the river which took us in Carlisle centre (down from Debenhams).
We arrived at Rickergate road (nr Debenhams) to find Rickergate underwater with water half way up the few cars in the civic centre car park and residents were evacuated from Corporation road, by the team the teams withdrew from the location the cars in the car park were fully submersed from sight and this was over a period of 60 minutes. I remember thinking to myself the thing I could relate the speed of water rising was to that of a coastal tide.
We also responded with police escort across Carlisle to reports of a women that had been washed away and was holding onto a post to keep her head above water and latterly washed into trees/bushes. Thankfully whilst on route we were stood down from the incident as the woman had been rescued.
Around 0400 we took our first real rest break and returned to a local college that was set up as an aid centre for evacuees, we were greeted by warm drinks and cakes and lots of ‘thank you for what you have done’. Notably when local residents found out we were from the Peak District they were shocked but extremely thankful of our assistance. We took sanctuary in the college and got some sleep for those not monitoring tasking’s from control. The community spirit was clear from stepping inside the warm building, there was a pile of blankets, duvets, pillows and when I asked where this all came from I heard it was donated by locals living near the college. I got served a cup of coffee by a gentleman and thanked him for the drink, that we really appreciated the support and asked why he was helping at which point it transpired he had been flooded and evacuated and he said the least he could do was help the rescue teams.
After a short break We revisited Rickergate road Sunday morning to find that we couldn’t even get to Debenhams as the water had risen half way up the traffic lights on the road junction where we had parked the evening before, this highlighted how much the water was still rising.
After that we were tasked to Warwick road where there was a hive of activity and evacuations of Vulnerable individuals initially by Mountain Rescue teams using inflatable Sleds and boats to latterly bigger and powered rescue boats from Fire and Rescue services from all over the UK. Whilst at Warwick road the local Army regiment (Duke of Lancasters) arrived in two large 7.5tone vehicles to help out in anyways they could and there help was gratefully received by the locals. One situation which really stood out for me was seeing Christmas Decorations floating in chest high water and what the impact this will have on so many people at the worst possible time of year, yet locals kept their spirits high and tried to keep positive even when faced with such difficulties.
Whilst at the scene in the residential area the police had imposed a cordon to enable the emergency service the space they required to manoeuvre at this point it was brought to our attention that a member of public was filling flasks and making sandwiches also a lady flagged me down offering cups of hot chocolate and homemade ginger cake. The sense of community spirit was immense with everyone helping in any way they could. I also noticed that the local young farmer clubs were using tractors and trailers to move sand to assist in sandbagging.
We continued to assist the rescues until 1300hrs Sunday 6th at which point fresh resource from other teams became available and arrived on site so we completed a thorough handover and started to pull back from the scene. We left Carlisle returning to Penrith to collect our personal possessions left at the fire service holding area and was met with a much welcomed bowl of soup before heading back to our back in the Hope Valley where we decontaminated all the equipment and put it all to dry with the help of team members who had kindly given time to speed up the task enabling the water team to get some well-deserved rest.
We all returned home with a sense of pride from being able to assist and also humbled by peoples response to such a horrendous natural event so close to Christmas. We are all volunteers all returned to our day jobs Monday morning bright and early.
A few things taken home by the team was the natural resilience of the local community during the devastating effects compounded by the imminent Christmas period and how well they pulled together in such a big way in the face of such a challenge also how the Mountain Rescue units, and other statutory service worked in collaboration through the ordeal for the best of the public we strive to serve 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
Written by Paul Bartram (Edale Mountain Rescue Team)