'We are going to lose everything': 12 years on, Yorkshire town floods again

Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

As the rain begins to fall, Sharon Capes steps off a boat after being rescued from her home, quietly watching others being saved. Soon, she is overcome with emotion.

For Capes and others, today has been too much to bear. Twelve years ago the residents of the South Yorkshire suburb of Bentley lost everything when their homes were completely submerged in flood water. On Friday morning they began to relive that same “nightmare and devastation” when their homes were once again engulfed in the overflowing waters of the nearby River Don.

Many woke up to water pouring through their front doors and had just minutes to save a few personal belongings and possessions. Others had been up all night moving furniture to upstairs rooms, anticipating the deluge that was about to strike. Residents used shopping trollies and their bins to transport sandbags in a desperate bid to protect their homes.

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For many, including factory worker Capes, the memories of the 2007 floods are still raw and now, she says, they are on the brink of losing everything once again.

“We knew the Don was getting pretty high and I ran home from work but it was just too late. It was all under water. I couldn’t believe it was happening again. I mean I know floods are acts of God but we were hoping the council would sort the flood defences out. We are going to lose everything again. How can that be right?” she says.

But Capes – holding just a plastic bag with some of her belongings, including pyjamas and some slippers – says she is one of the lucky ones. Her house and contents are insured. Others in the area could not afford the premiums. After the 2007 floods insurance companies increased their premiums by as much as three times in some cases.

“For this to happen just before Christmas is devastating – there is no other word for it. Last time it happened it took a year for me to get back my house back. I had to live upstairs – I’m not sure I can do that all over again,” adds Capes.

Sharon Capes, left, with Lucy Hanrahan. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

One of those unlucky families without insurance is Capes’s son, Brett Turner, 29, his wife, Lucy Hanrahan, and their one-year-old son, Rocco.

“Me and my baby were woken up this morning by people banging on our door telling us to get out of the house,” said Hanrahan. “We literally had to run upstairs with a few things before leaving. So everything is pretty much lost and we have no hope of getting it back. As we came out into the water people were screaming and panicking and my son just clung on to me. He was so frightened. There were bins floating everywhere and people standing around looking shocked. What are we going to do?”

A month’s rainfall fell in one day in Bentley, causing the River Don to breach its banks. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

As the rescue effort began in the afternoon children cycled out of the 3ft-high waters and others waded through in just their trainers. Cars remained submerged and some residents stood at the windows of the flooded homes forlornly looking out at the chaos.

For Bethany Wingfield, 22, it had been a day of anxious waiting for her 78-year-old dementia-suffering grandfather, Ken, to be rescued by emergency services.

“It started coming down the road from the bank this morning. Everything got covered, the floorboards came up and now it is nearly upstairs. Literally everything we could lift we moved but most of it is lost and then my grandfather got stuck because he was too confused and cold to come out,” she said.

Twelve hours after water first started to pour into Ken’s terraced home in Yarborough Terrace he was eventually rescued in a boat at just before 3pm and taken to a waiting police car.

The fire and rescue services evacuate a Bentley resident. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Many say emergency services and the local council had been slow to react, leaving some – including a man with one leg – stranded in their homes without food or water for several hours. Residents say they were forced to rely on volunteers to aid their rescue effort.

Those volunteers included Mark Ibbertson, 49, and his 13-year-old son, Logan, who began rescuing local residents early this morning in their inflatable boat.

Ibbertson, who lives with his family in the nearby village of Sprotborough, said he could not sit by and watch people suffer. He helped to rescue more than 20 people as well as numerous animals.

Related: Have you been affected by flooding in Yorkshire and the Midlands?

“This is quite a poor area and in the 2007 floods they did not get much help at all and we couldn’t just leave them. When I arrived this morning it was really sad – they were stuck in their own homes and there was water everywhere again. My heart went out to them,” he said.

He added: “I rescued cats, dogs and so many old ladies. They have all been so grateful. They are real characters and, despite everything, this situation, they have kept going and were just so happy to see us.”