Like so many others on Sunday, I woke up after a restless sleep – the wind was howling, and rain battered the house. I didn’t know that at the bottom of my housing estate that there was devastation. As I scrolled through social media, I could see that homes and businesses were underwater in Taffs Well, Pontypridd and further up into The Valleys, all along the River Taff.
On the lead up to Sunday 16th February 2020, a months’ worth of rain fell in the 48 hours before. South Wales was battered by winds topping 90mph and rainfall of more than 16cm. The Met Office also warned that further rain was going to fall during the coming week.
The damage to my home was minimal. The garden we can tidy up in the summer. Nails have already been put in the fallen fences. The small amount of water that came through the tiles in the utility has already gone, and it has been re-grouted.
Walking through my village of Taffs Well later that day, it was heart-breaking and soul-destroying speaking to other local residents and seeing the damage that had been caused. I watched people weep as their houses were filled with water. I listened to their stories of neighbours banging the doors to get them up and out, and livelihoods ripped apart by Storm Dennis.
The river was still raging. I have always lived close to it, in various parts of Cardiff, but had never seen it flowing so fast. It was terrifying to see 15-20ft trees bobbing along, as well as tyres, beer barrels, other large items and debris. All of this has now ended up in Cardiff Bay, which is noticeable on my commute to work.
The children’s park was submerged, you could just see the tips of the swing set and slide. The bowling green looked more like a murky swimming pool rather than the bright green that should have been there. As well as cars filled with water up to their roofs.
Further up in Pontypridd, it was reported that it was one of the places in Wales that were most affected. People were being rescued by boats – boats, where the roads should be!
I had never seen so many people out on the streets. It was cold, the rain was still coming down, and people were just in limbo – they didn’t know what to do. The clean-up could not start until the water had subsided. Those with insurance couldn’t even start this until the damage had been assessed.
One lady, who lives on Oxford Street told me she had lived there for 53 years, and even though there had been flooding before, it had never been this bad. They had a minimal warning. They could order sandbags, which they did, but they arrived on Sunday morning when it was already too late, but in reality, they would not have helped.
This was when the community came alive. Taffs Well Rugby Club, Taffs Well Community Centre and the Taffs Well Inn became hubs for the displaced. They offered somewhere warm to shelter, tea, coffee and hot food. Over the past few days, many of us have witnessed remarkable togetherness. Clothes, toiletries, food, cleaning products and children’s toys have been donated from all of the surrounding areas. There have been offers from those not affected to look after pets, allow people to use their kitchens and washing machines. When I took clothes, toiletries, fruit and a boot full of cleaning products I couldn’t believe how much had been donated. It was shocking to hear that it was not enough!
I have also seen offers from self-employed plumbers, electricians, decorators who want to donate a day a week over the next few months to help people get back on their feet, all completely free of charge. Even people not skilled in these areas have offered their evenings and weekends to help with clearing the streets of floodwater and the rest of the clean-up.
I think I should also mention the emergency services who worked so hard on getting everyone to safety too. More than 1,000 emergency calls were made overnight to the police on Sunday 16th February. Many came to work voluntarily, worked overtime and worked tirelessly to get everyone to safety.
The storm has left a devastating and lasting effect on our community, one that will not be forgotten quickly. It has also reminded us of how to come together and be part of something bigger. We tend to only go to community centres and rugby clubs for an event, something to do with the family, or a night out drinking. It’s great to see these places being used for what they were built for – bringing the community together.
I cannot imagine how many tears have been shed over the past few days. But, despite what people have lost, it showed the power of human kindness. We have compassion, we have friendship, we have humanity, and we have each other.