The Day The Waters Went Up And The Lights Went Down

30 11 2016

skerton-bridge

When I was at school learning Geography; the one thing I would constantly hear from all the teachers, is that the first thing you need in order to start a settlement is the close proximity of water. That is a pretty obvious resource, as though while other necessities are also required; without access to water, your little settlement is not necessarily going to last all that long. One thing though my mind ponders after the events of last year though is that; when a settlement does start-up, do they ever consider how dangerous that water source could potentially be? Much like other cities/towns/villagers around the world, Lancaster has a river. Some of the other locations of the world might have small streams, or big wide rivers; Lancaster sort of has a large wide channel for water but normally, if you were to stand on one of the bridges in Lancaster, you would see that the River Lune appears to be pretty small and shallow. It runs through the centre of Lancaster in a wide trench and pretty deep trench; but normally does not even cover the entire patch of land at the bottom. When it does get high really does depend on whether there is an equinox or if there is plenty of rain to feed it, in which case the river can be nearly lapping the street level of St George’s Quay, which is the lowest road next to the river. St George’s Quay itself has been known to struggle with the flooding at times and over the last several decades, numerous plans were drawn up to try and prevent too much, including raising the road, to building the now erected wall along the river. Even when the river is high, if you go stand on Skerton Bridge, it does not look too bad. It can be deep and the channel is wide, but only really looks high if it gets to the Quay. That all changed on December 5th 2015.

River Lune Flood 5

It was a pretty normal Saturday. It was late in the year, and I had spent the day as normal, sitting behind my Laptop on the table. My head was spinning and judging whether or not I should go and see the film Krampus having seen the trailer a few times and my parents were discussing going somewhere. I think my Dad was supposed to be preaching away, I can’t remember where and I think my Mam was debating whether or not to go with him. Sometime later, my Mam was reading off her kindle, and saw a report announcing road closures, and that there was some flooding around the River Lune. Getting a little interested by this I decided to go out and have a look. The night was pretty dark by this time, it was early December, and I had no idea what I was going to see. I just thought the river would be higher than normal, nothing else. Skerton Bridge is no more than maybe 5 minutes’ walk from my house. I walk the same route every Sunday on my way to church which is less than a few seconds away from the north bank of the Lune. When I arrived I walked onto the bridge, and was amazed at what I saw. Now I was not wearing my glasses that day, I don’t require wearing them all the time but they do help. I walked onto the bridge, and looked down on it. I knew it could be high, but I wasn’t expecting the river to be wider too.

River Lune Flood 1

The river was literally bursting its banks, on both sides. On the north side bank, there is a little hill edged into the left hand side of the bridge. It’s a steady hill which allows people the use of a small tunnel under the bridge, allowing them to cross over to the other side without running through moving traffic. Well; the tunnel had water in it. The whole bank in that area was water-logged and level with the river. I have never seen that before. I heard it may have happened once, when I was perhaps 5 years old, I was now beyond my mid-twenties. The bridge was still accessible, but nearly jammed up with traffic. As I continued to walk across the bridge in awe at what I was observing, I saw that the bank on the other side, which is flat and is something of cycle path, that too had water on it, to the same level as the river. It was the same on the other side of the bridge. The little park near Sainsbury’s feeling a patch of water, submerging pathways. I quickly went back home, before popping immediately out again, with my Mam and my Camera. The dark sky did not help me much in taking pictures, but I got some though. Then, I went over to the Millennium Bridge. The Millennium Bridge is a small footbridge which connects the end of Lune Street with the top of the Quay. Knowing how high the river usually got around the Quay, I wanted to go see. I was right, the river was high there too, but more than I thought. I walked across, and could see swells, little whirlpool like effects near the bridge supports building and turning, and on the dip with the Quay side bridge entrance, I could see the river, nearly within finger reach of the bridge’s lowest pathway dip. It was amazing to see, I took photos and a couple of videos that night, though only one video really worked.

That night was something of a mini adventure for me. It was amazing to see the river like that. To see it not just high but bursting its banks. But what happened next was completely unexpected. I was upstairs watching TV when the lights and power went out. A few seconds later they came back on again without a hitch, but then a little while later, they went out again, but like before returned to full power within seconds. The evening was without hitch for maybe an hour or so more, and then they went out again, and they stayed out. My room was dark upstairs, I could not see a thing, and the only light source was a palaver lamp a friend got me for Christmas a year before (just shake it and it lights up). I looked outside onto the street. It wasn’t just our house, the whole street was gone, even the BP Garage was unlit (although one house across the road had Christmas lights lit up and working?). I cautiously and slowly worked my way downstairs, using the palaver lamp as my only torch. When I got downstairs, there was little light other than a few torches lighting the dining room. I went to bed soon after, but being the kind of guy who still needs something of a night-light to sleep, the darkness was hard to sleep in. It was not just a little dark, it was very dark. I was relying on a wind up torch to give me some help, but as I had images from the Krampus trailer in my head, it was hard not to spook myself out, but I still managed to eventually get to sleep.

Krampus (Legendary Pictures - 2015)

The following morning I awoke, needing to grab my bearings, and remember the previous night. I tried the lamp on my bedside table, nothing happened. Expecting the power to have returned during the night, I discovered it was still off. I got up and proceeded downstairs to see what was going on. The power was still turned off, with only battery operated equipment running. But with no power, there was very little information as to what was going on. We were still able to eat some breakfast, before heading out to church. We walked down the street; some roads were covered in water, it was not the case of water coming over the lips of the hills in the area, it was more the case of the sewers overflowing and simply coming up out of the wells in the streets. When we reached the bridge, we discovered two shocks; firstly, the river was still high. I took another video, surprised to see it still high, and it was flowing strong and fast. I have never seen it do that before. It was like a large open air sewer, carrying out everything it could out to sea, in a desperate attempt to keep the balance. That was the first shock. The other was that the bridge was closed. Somehow, as reports suggested, as the winds picked up, a container had blown into the river and hit the only two road bridges in the city. Both Skerton Bridge the Greyhound Bridge and even the Millennium Bridge were inaccessible.

We still went to church and had something of a bible study/prayer meeting, as there was only a few of us. Many people who come to our church were situated on the other side of the river. The only person to come from that side, did so by parking her car next to Carlisle Bridge, then walk across the very tall bridge that it is, and then all the way to church. It was at church though that we finally got some news regarding current issues. Firstly the lack of power was due to the substation flooding. Reports were stating that it should be back on by: Tuesday morning or evening. We also heard about some of the more serious damage caused by the river, as two people attending church at the time, living not far from us, had their house flooded overnight in a big way. Our little meeting adjourned, we went home, with the two people flooded in tow as my Mam made them some Cheese Sandwiches. Mam was pretty skillful with the beef roast bought at Sainsbury’s the previous night as she was able to have some use of the cooker and made some steaks for us to eat too. As the day went on, it became something of a more mundane and quieter Sunday than usual. Without my usual access to my Laptop or Games, I watched Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal on a portable DVD Player until it ran out of power. Mam and I sat in her Fiat Panda for a little bit to listen to The Bay radio in an attempt to find out some news, but the two clowns on the radio weren’t really all that helpful. Instead of presenting helpful and emergency news, they just sort of did a program like BBC Breakfast, getting other views of other people rather than provide the news that was really desired and needed. As evening drew in, the garage across the road opened a small hatch so some people could buy batteries and bits, so I popped across later in the afternoon to get some batteries to power lights and the radio. Apart from that, my Dad sat down with a book, and we all found ways to ride it through.

Sleeping Queens Kings and Queens

Later on I popped out for a little walk, and my senses and caution were tested as I experienced first-hand, what lack of power meant for the neighborhood on a winter’s day. I popped out with my Camera, and the night was beginning to draw in. I could still see some daylight, but it faded fast. I walked down Aldren’s lane, and saw first-hand how bad the flooding got in that area. The water may had gone, but silt remained, you could see though the patch of the wall where it had come through though, revealing a small channel where it could seep through with nothing to stop it. You could even see the level of how far inland the river got, and how high up the buildings it went, as the dark impression was still on the bricks. The whole area must have been like a mini boating pond, and a lot of silt remained on the path and road. I walked on a little bit, and got feelings and reminders of the film I Am Legend, with the dark night coming in, and houses blanketed without power. I decided to return home before it got too dark. By the time I was within reach of home, it was utter black. Not far from my home there is Ryelands Park, lit up by street lights and piercing lights of the city behind. Across the road there is of course the BP garage, and opposite to there is the once great, now nearly non-existent Skerton High School. Even on a dark winter night, you can see things. There is plenty of lighting from near and afar to light up the area. Well, on this Sunday night, none of these could be seen. I could not see the school, I could not see the faint outline of the city or Castle, I could barely see a tree in the park. In a small open space the only light being produced was from that house’s Christmas decorations, and the cars driving by, judging when it was safe to turn at a spot that once had working traffic lights. The evening was not too bad though, my Mam and Brother played some card games with me for an hour. We played Sleeping Queens and Straw, both fun games. My Dad read his book using a book mark light, and while it was cold due to the lack of heating, we still had an OK night. But like the night before, we went to bed a lot earlier than we usually do. Once again, it was dark and spooky, and getting to sleep was hard, but I managed it in the end. To be honest by this time I was feeling excited and was really enjoying some of the more social and quiet aspects of all this, and was looking forward to another quiet day.

River Lune Flood 2

The following day I woke up and tried the light; power was back on. I went downstairs and could see my Mam running around, while my Dad was busy phoning church members to see if they were ok, all the while the TV was on with News as to what was happening with the power. It was both great to see the power was back on, but also sad as it meant I had to go back to my daily routine at the time of having to do 35 hours of job searching, just to receive a tiny supply of money from Universal Credit. Anyway, I allowed myself some time to treat myself. I told everybody on Facebook I was OK with a post, and then to celebrate the return of Electricity, I chose an aptly named song to post on Facebook: The Power by Snap! I also spent some time texting and emailing others just to see if they were ok and let them know that I was ok. I also uploaded my photos and videos onto YouTube and Facebook too.

So life returned to normal? Sort of… Basically, both road bridges and Millennium Bridge were still unopened, and would remain that way until Tuesday. Well they were claiming that they wanted to make sure they were safe after the container collision. So could not really go into town unless I went the long way round, but I stayed in home to do my job search, while also making sure I put my 3DS and the portable DVD player on charge along with a few other pieces of electrical equipment just in case. It turns out that that was a good idea, as though while there was now power, it was announced that they would be turned off again later, which it was. I was able to continue doing stuff on my Laptop now it had some charge in it, but in the end, it was back to doing the other activities of being without power that I had acclimatized myself to doing the last few days: watching Going Postal and playing on the 3DS, until the batteries went out. From Tuesday onwards, it was pretty much back to normal, there were still feelings and rumours of losing power again, while the news debated the real cost and talked about the stronger tragedies of the incident: people losing their homes, possessions, road closures, broken roads and railway bridges. The news was awash with such things, while other people talked about their experiences and also rumours of more power losses to come, but did not happen, although some had to rely on generators for a while, many of which were in large areas for a week or two afterwards, not to mention the roads that needed mending, and the train bridges that needed rebuilding. But for most of us, life returned to normal. I had a dentist appointment on Tuesday, was at Barnardo’s volunteering that afternoon, and on Wednesday was attending a Christmas Party at UCLan.

River Lune Flood 4

The whole event for me personally was a weird one. At first it was surprising and something awe-inspiring; looking at what was usually a docile river turning into the controlling factor of a weekend. Losing power and taking the things in my life for granted, as though while they came back, they were gone, and I had to find other ways to use up my time, to the re-established joy of spending time with my family joy such an event could bring. A river becoming a torrent, several days without basic luxuries, being apart from many, not knowing if they were ok…or if they had knowledge of what was going on here – or if I was in it? Altogether, this event created an aftermath that would see general life return to normal, but creating a shaken experience as now I could really see the raw power of nature and what power and destruction my usually docile home town river was capable of.

River Lune Flood 3

GENEPOOL (One thing I wish I had done though was find a way into town during the night, just to experience how dark it must have been).

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