Helston just moments from flood disaster: Full report and gallery
11:25am Wednesday 28th November 2012 in News
Helston was moments from disaster on Saturday when hours of heavy rain forced water levels of the Cober River to breaking point.
Fears that the town could be in danger were first raised at around 7pm, when Cornwall Council revealed that agencies were monitoring the River Cober and Helston Leats.
At that time both had higher than normal water levels but had not flooded.
Then, just before 8pm Cornwall Council warned residents of Helston to “take immediate precautions” as river levels continued to rise and flooding appeared likely.
Within the hour Helston’s emergency plan had swung into action, with the Guildhall opened up for stricken families hit by flooding.
In the event, only two elderly residents were moved to the emergency centre as a precaution, where they received support and company for a few hours during the worst of the weather.
Authorities were seen knocking on the doors of residents in the low-lying St John’s area, which is next to the Cober, warning of potential flooding and to move possessions upstairs.
At least one resident is understood to have been taken to Penhellis Nursing Home, to be cared for by staff.
However, another St John’s resident, 79-year-old James Henry Beard, described it as a “pantomime” on Saturday night and claimed some of the older people had been frightened by the knocks on the door and the fears of flooding.
Mr Beard was also angry about a lack of sandbags in the area and said: “Back in the 40s we had nothing but we all worked with one another. Today in year 2012 we can’t afford it – we ‘don’t have the money’.”
Helston’s 13 retained firefighters saw their busiest weekend in ten years.
They worked non-stop for 16 and a half hours, having been up for around 24 hours by the end of their shift.
Station officer Keith Stringer said the first call came in at 2.45pm on Saturday and the crews continued responding to calls until 7.30am Sunday, when they finally left flood-hit Trenear.
During that time they were sent to emergencies throughout the west of Cornwall, from Falmouth and Penryn to Budock Water, as well as Helston.
Mr Stringer said: “We were out all that time. Everybody [always] does their bit and we just get on until we get relief crews – but because everybody else was so busy there weren’t any relief crews left.”
He said tiredness was kept at bay because they were so busy, adding: “It’s when you start to slow down it starts to affect you.”
The crews were able to get some sleep for a few hours between 7.30am and lunchtime on Sunday, before heading out again to non-flooding related incidents.
“We had a very busy weekend,” said Mr Stringer. “Everybody pulled together and got the job done and completed.”
Mike Hardy from the National Trust said areas of its land across Helston and the Lizard Peninsula had been affected by flooding.
Landslips had taken place in coastal areas, with Lizard Point the most badly affected.
On Monday the footpath that runs from the Cober River to the Penrose Amenity Area was still inaccessible.
Mr Hardy, head ranger of the Penrose Estate, said: “After bad weather, whether its high winds or extreme rainfall, we’re out and about. We’ve been all along our coast looking and checking for things like landslips and problems on footpaths.”
An advice surgery was due to take place yesterday evening at Helston’s Isaac House council offices, where people affected by flooding could get help from the Environment Agency, police, Cornwall Council and other organisations.
A spokesperson for Cornwall Council said the surgery was aimed at helping people learn more about what happened and what they could do next.
Representatives from Cornwall Development Company and other business support agencies were also due to be on hand with advice for businesses affected by flooding.