Words by Katie Waits
Sunday, 16th February 2020. Who would’ve thought what should’ve been a normal February day could create such a story.
Not all stories we tell are fond reflections or pleasant trips down memory lane, and it’s important to remember that you’re allowed to share the bad stories just as much as the good ones without feeling like you’re being negative or attention-seeking. It can be cathartic sharing stories and valuable to your mental well-being. Some stories are no big deal, we can cringe and move on. Others stick with us and change our outlook, tales that we may repeat again and again for a long time. I’ve chosen to tell my story about the month that my family and I have been through, a story that ticks all of those boxes. I think it’s time to get it off my chest a little.
It was 2:54am. I hadn’t yet fallen asleep and needing a drink, I got out of bed to get some water. All day, it had been raining heavily in the midst of Storm Dennis. On returning to my bedroom I looked out the window, just to see if it had stopped yet and how high the river across the road had got. The scene I saw before me had been one I’d always feared, but never thought would actually happen. Cars floating down the street, lights flashing, garden fences submerged, road markings hidden, bins gone. The River Taff had burst its banks and was quickly making its way towards our front door.
“I think the river’s burst its banks”, I told my parents. Honestly, I can’t believe it now, I was reluctant to wake them. At this point it was 3am, they were sleeping, and part of me was in denial of what I’d seen. My dad shot out of bed, ran to my bedroom window and swore. That, I think, was when I realised just how bad it was.
The next half hour or so was a blur of trying to save as much as we could. I grabbed photo albums, books, and records, while my sister and my dad were hurriedly unplugging the television, the computer and games consoles. Clothes, ornaments, important letters, and storage boxes were all shoved on the stairs and landing in a desperate attempt to save as much as we could physically manage before the water came in. My dad even lifted our coffee table onto the sofa in an attempt to save it. We were just grabbing anything and everything.
The moment the water came in will always haunt me. A massive puddle began to appear in our hallway, soaking the rugs we had shoved by the front door. Still passing things in a chain up the stairs, time was against us. Soon, we could hear a trickling sound. The water had made its way to the vent at the front of the house and within minutes, it became a terrifying rush of freezing, filthy river water. Our lovely, cosy living room was no more.
My mum does a lot of sewing and crocheting, and over the years has tried several other crafts too. She had built up quite a collection of books, wool and material. Unfortunately, most of it was kept downstairs. As we stood in the icy water trying to save some of it, the flooring had come off, and began bubbling in places. You know that feeling when you’re standing in the sea and something weird brushes your leg or you stumble over something hidden? That’s what it was like.
Eventually, all was quiet. The water levelled out and exhausted, we tried to sleep. Only an hour later, I woke up to the sound of my parents on the phone to family members and insurance companies. My sister and I sat in her bedroom window to see that, although the river was receding, the street was a mess. Cars swept away, walls collapsed, bins scattered, front gardens ruined.
Everybody was outside. Neighbours, including those who barely speak to each other, were passing around tea, hugging each other, sharing their stories of the terrible events. We learned that some were fine but felt guilty, others had woken up to flooded living rooms, and others weren’t even at home. As for us, whilst we saved a lot, we lost a lot too. The kitchen and living room were coated with a slippery, bad-smelling layer of mud and goodness knows what else, ruining and contaminating all of our furniture and unsaved items. Even our beloved old car had been written off, after filling with flood water.
Since 8am that February morning, my family haven’t really stopped telling the story of the flood. Initially, this began with our neighbours, united by the dreadful events. Then, we had to tell the story to those closest to us all – my grandparents, other family members, and a small number of close friends each. Insurance companies and the council had to know what happened in order to help us. The media found its way to our street once or twice, meaning that my parents had to tell the story again, and every day the news reported people’s own personal flood stories. People who offered us packed lunches (thank you kind strangers) listened to us. I went to university the next day for some normality and recalled what had happened to my friends there. When my parents went to work, they found themselves being asked about it and having to frequently repeat everything.
Three weeks on, we still find ourselves retelling our story of the flood that hit Pontypridd. It is exhausting and emotionally taxing recalling what happened and what is happening to us now as we overcome it. Despite this, I think it’s important that we keep telling our story. The more we talk about it, more can hopefully be done to help and prevent this happening ever again on our street and our town as a whole. Plus, for the sake of our mental health, telling negative stories is important, just as much as telling positive ones. In fact, I feel better just having written this article.