Sandbagging with #FLAG on the Somerset Levels


I’ve just returned from sandbagging near the swollen River Parrett at Langport, a town next to the unfolding flooding disasters on the Somerset levels. From the media you may have heard about Muchelney and Moorland on the levels who have been suffering since Christmas. However, an area of 65km2[1] is under water covering numerous farms and affecting 150 homes. This means that many villages, hamlets and isolated properties and farms are under water, resulting in a very large area being affected by flooded homes, closed roads and long term disruption.

This extraordinary and effective community response is exploiting the potential of web 2:0 to draw in increasingly widely offered support. Yesterday FLAG’s Twitter stream (@dredgetherivers) showed photos of an HGV loaded with straw heading off from Rutland and animal feed from Crediton, amongst others. It also saw the arrival of the Khalsa Aid group, a British-based international relief group who helped desperate householders move furniture upstairs, make sandbags and more.

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As I return to the warm and dry I’m hooked again by the endless support pouring in from around the county and beyond on the FLAG Facebook page[2]. In this area communities are being inundated by water but also overwhelmed by the support not only offered locally but from across the country. This mass community response is a story not being told about in this disaster. There are rest centres for people flooded out of their homes, drop off points across the county for supplies to be donated to those in need. Blankets, food, clothing, toiletries etc are pouring in. Charities such as PetAid have donated pet food. This is being matched by tonnes of sand, sand bags not to mention the Dutch pumps that have been warmly welcomed by local folk.

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Photo credit B Roskell

However donations only tell one half of the story. The operations of FLAG, who began as a local pro-dredging pressure group, have become the go-to community resource for help as the waters rose and more and more houses and farms have been overwhelmed. On their Facebook page a shout out is posted and very quickly people pull on their wellies and head out to help. Earlier this week, through this group farmers’ and smallholders’ livestock have been moved, feed has been sourced and sandbags have been made and distributed. Now the group has organised a central list of contacts, emergency numbers and posted places to drop off donations.

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Photo Credit -C Larkins

These activities, widely shared through Facebook and Twitter, are going unreported as the media focus on high level visits and the endless debate about how best to manage such landscapes. What this community does not appreciate is those pronouncing their demise. Those who have not been here to see the people digging in to support not only each other, but also the continuation of their communities, have not seen the full picture of this flooding disaster story.

Through FLAG this inundated area of Somerset is drawing in grassroots knowledge to respond to reports from experts, as well as unappreciated comments from others. The group came up with a 7 point plan for future flood management[3]. This plan acknowledges the complexity of managing such a low-lying area and not only calls for dredging and a tidal barrage on the River Parrett, but also points to the importance of increasing infiltration and creating attenuation ponds upstream.

This response not only highlights enormous community resilience within this rural locale but the online tools that make this response possible. However it should be said that this response is taking people out of their everyday lives. Whilst community ties are being strengthened through this disaster, some lives are on hold whilst others are ripped apart as farms and homes are inundated, roads closed and responses coordinated.

Any financial assistance can be made through –http://www.somersetcf.org.uk/index.php?page=somerset-emergency-flood-relief-fund

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Photo credits -R Sandover

 


[1] BBC Somerset ‘What are the Somerset Levels?’ -http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-26080597

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