‘WE WON’T BE BEATEN BY THIS’

How busi­nesses and fam­i­lies hit by Storm Cal­lum are pulling to­gether to get back on their feet:

Wales On Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT HARRIES Re­porter robert.harries@waleson­line.co.uk

T HE peo­ple of Car­marthen­shire knew that a storm was com­ing.

Yel­low weather warn­ings for rain and wind had been is­sued for the west of Wales and trains from Car­marthen to Swansea had been sus­pended.

There are ar­eas of Car­marthen town cen­tre that are used to high wa­ter.

The Quay, home to a hard­ware store, a river­side restau­rant and a few other busi­nesses, are of­ten hit first when tor­ren­tial rain falls on Wales’ old­est town. Their lo­ca­tion yards from the River Towy makes them in­evitable vic­tims of flood­ing.

But what hap­pened on Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 12, and into the fol­low­ing day took ev­ery­one by sur­prise. Not since 1987 had the town seen scenes like this. This was dif­fer­ent.

By Satur­day af­ter­noon, Pon­tar­gothi Bridge, around seven miles out­side Car­marthen, was closed. The pub that sits be­side it was drown­ing.

By Satur­day evening homes were ru­ined and busi­nesses were un­der wa­ter. One eye­wit­ness told how he was stood on the an­cient Towy Bridge, which leads into the town, when he felt it shake. This was real.

Pen­sarn Road, home to a num­ber of large and small busi­nesses, a stone’s throw away from the river, was a river it­self, as was the vil­lage of Aberg­wili, on the out­skirts of town.

The nor­mally peace­ful and tran­quil Towy had trans­formed into a swollen and un­ruly beast that ran through the mid­dle of Car­marthen.

Walk­ing the streets in the days that fol­lowed it was al­most eerie to see how serene it all was – the ul­ti­mate calm af­ter the storm.

Roads and bridges re­opened, path­ways were dry, and peo­ple am­bled the streets against a sunny, au­tum­nal back­drop.

It was as if noth­ing had hap­pened – but the dam­age will linger for weeks and months.

One of the most se­ri­ously af­fected busi­nesses has been Bas­setts Citroen garage in Pen­sarn Road.

Sit­u­ated in the eye of the floods, the garage had dozens of ve­hi­cles parked out­side. The staff there did all they could to limit the dam­age but some things were beyond sav­ing.

Around £400,000 worth of stock was ru­ined within hours. In the com­ing days re­cov­ery lor­ries will ar­rive out­side and trans­port 32 ‘to­talled’ cars to the shred­der.

“Those cars are never go­ing back on the road,” said Ei­fion Williams, gen­eral man­ager at Bas­setts.

“They’ll be taken away, bro­ken up, and dis­man­tled. Once wa­ter has got into the ve­hi­cles, that’s that.

“The build-up of wa­ter was so rapid that within no time at all the road was cov­ered in wa­ter.

“Staff were wor­ried about whether they’d be able to get home so we did ev­ery­thing we could to save as many ve­hi­cles as pos­si­ble and then we closed at about 1.15pm on the Satur­day. By 3.15pm we had a call from Nat­u­ral Re­sources Wales to say that the flood alert had been es­ca­lated so we came down here and tried to move a cou­ple of the cars.

“We’re lucky in a way that we didn’t move any more out to the back of the garage, other­wise that fig­ure of 32 would have been even higher.

“I was here on Sun­day morn­ing and I thought then that the wa­ter would be here un­til at least Tues­day. I was in Car­marthen in 1987 and back then the wa­ter re­mained high for days, but this time, by Mon­day morn­ing, Pen­sarn Road was clear.”

Ei­fion and his team of 18 staff all ral­lied to­gether in the days that fol­lowed and just days later, ev­ery­thing was back to nor­mal – ex­cept for the 32 new ve­hi­cles out­side that will never be driven an­other mile.

In all his 15 years at the garage Ei­fion has never seen any­thing like it.

“This is by far the worst flood­ing the town has seen since 1987. We’ve had alerts from time to time about ris­ing river lev­els but noth­ing like this, and it all hap­pened so quickly. All those cars, ev­ery­thing that was out the back – fin­ished.”

It’s amaz­ing to think that, less than a week later, the com­pany is back open and op­er­at­ing nor­mally.

Life here goes on and the hard work of the staff has en­sured that even a £400,000 hit can’t knock the spirit of the com­pany. By Wed­nes­day it was busi­ness as usual.

That hard work has been ev­i­dent through­out the re­gion, none more so that at the Cres­selly Arms. The pub is next to the River Cothi and its own­ers don’t have in­sur­ance against flood­ing.

When the wa­ter be­gan to rise on Fri­day night and into Satur­day morn­ing the land­lady thought “that was it”.

“When I looked out of the win­dow and saw the wa­ter out­side I feared the worst – I thought we’d be closed for months,” said Amanda Philpin, who took over the coun­try pub with her part­ner Gary Trick­ett in July 2016.

“On the Fri­day night, just af­ter we’d fin­ished serv­ing food, we took ev­ery­thing out of the din­ing room. We didn’t sleep at all that night. We knew it was go­ing to be bad.”

Nev­er­the­less their worst fears, how­ever grave, could not have lived up to the re­al­ity.

By Satur­day morn­ing the win­dows of the pub were barely vis­i­ble from the out­side. The beer gar­den, with re­cently-laid deck­ing and a play area for chil­dren, had be­come an ex­tended part of the Cothi.

To look at the pub then, and to walk around in­side to­day, is to re­alise the mag­ni­tude of the work achieved by Amanda, Gary, and the com­mu­nity. In­cred­i­bly the pub was due to re­open yes­ter­day lunchtime – seven days since such grave dam­age was in­flicted.

“We have to give a huge thanks to the com­mu­nity be­cause so many peo­ple have come to­gether to help us out,” said Amanda.

“Lo­cal res­i­dents have been here and their at­ti­tude has been: ‘Well, it’s hap­pened, let’s just get on and fix it’.

“Com­pa­nies like Castell How­ell and Mor­ton’s Fine Foods have helped us so much. The fact that we’re open­ing a week later is amaz­ing and is tes­ta­ment to ev­ery­one’s hard work and sup­port.”

The im­me­di­ate car­nage may have only lasted a cou­ple of days, and the wa­ter may have now dis­ap­peared, but the long-term dam­age could be harder to shift.

“I had a sleep­less night the other night,” ad­mit­ted Amanda.

“It was driz­zling out­side, only driz­zling, but I couldn’t help check­ing to see how bad it was rain­ing. I feel silly now, but I couldn’t help it.”

The re­al­ity is that this has never hap­pened be­fore in the cou­ple’s time at the Cres­selly, and the chances are that it won’t hap­pen again any time soon.

Amanda’s part­ner Gary is even look­ing on the bright side of the fact that in­sur­ance com­pa­nies just will not cover the premises against flood dam­age.

“You can’t let it beat you,” he said. “This is our first ex­pe­ri­ence of it all and we’re just look­ing for­ward to re­open­ing.

“One way of look­ing at it is – if we had in­sur­ance it might have taken months to sort it all out, but do­ing it this way at least means we can just get on with it.”

‘Just get­ting on with it’ seems to be a com­mon theme among the peo­ple hit by flood­ing.

Back in Car­marthen, a much-loved chip shop and cafe has been closed all week af­ter rain crashed its way through fridges, freez­ers, cook­ing ranges, and electrics.

Ha­gan’s Cafe & Chip Shop, lo­cated in Pen­sarn, was open as nor­mal last Satur­day morn­ing. The pop­u­lar cafe was busy with work­ers and those en­joy­ing a week­end break­fast when the weather took a turn for the worse.

“We could see the wa­ter ris­ing and we were told we had to get out – it all hap­pened so quickly,” said owner Lil­ian Ha­gan.

“This cafe has been here for nine years and we’ve never seen any­thing like it be­fore.”

A lot of her stock – po­ta­toes, fish, sausages, and drinks – has ended up in a skip out­side the cafe and this ru­ina­tion, to­gether with dam­age done to equip­ment, has cost the busi­ness thou­sands of pounds.

Ha­gan’s, like Bas­setts Citroen, is lo­cated only a cou­ple of hun­dred yards from the Towy and stood no chance of es­cap­ing the wa­ter that came down Pen­sarn Road.

“I as­sumed I would lose ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing but my elec­tri­cian has been so good and we’ve man­aged to save some things,” said Lil­ian.

“I’ve lost a cou­ple of fridges and freez­ers and my cooker but my main con­cern is for the staff.

“I’ve got 14 peo­ple work­ing here all to­gether, full-time and part-time. They’ve been so good to me – they’ve been in ev­ery day since it hap­pened, help­ing, try­ing to get things back to nor­mal, but it hasn’t been easy.

“We’re lucky in a way be­cause it could have been worse.”

Rain came pour­ing into the cafe and by Satur­day night and into Sun­day the wa­ter level had risen sev­eral feet above the floor, dev­as­tat­ing ev­ery­thing un­der­neath.

A large part of the chip shop was left un­der­wa­ter and its cur­rent state is a far cry from the usual hus­tle and bus­tle that nor­mally fills this pop­u­lar chippy on a week­end lunchtime, sur­rounded as it is by busi­nesses with hun­gry work forces on ei­ther side.

“I have no idea what the fu­ture will hold for me and my staff,” said Lil­ian.

“My main con­cern is for them – they’ve been work­ing so hard and they need wages. My prob­lem at the mo­ment is we’re not mak­ing any money be­cause we can’t open.”

Lil­ian has launched a GoFundMe ap­peal to raise enough money to be able to re­open her beloved busi­ness.

Build­ings in­sur­ance will cover dam­age to the prop­erty it­self but with no con­tents in­sur­ance the equip- ment she needs to bring Ha­gan’s back will run into the thou­sands.

“Just when you think ev­ery­thing is fine this hap­pens,” she said.

“I don’t know where else I can turn – I don’t think I will be able to do this on my own so I am ask­ing for help.”

De­spite her fears for the fu­ture Lil­ian hopes the cafe, at the rear of the prop­erty, can be re­opened this week­end but the chip shop at the front could be closed for some time.

All of this hard­ship pales, how­ever, in com­par­i­son to the an­guish felt by the fam­ily and friends of 21-year-old Corey Sharpling, who trag­i­cally died last Satur­day evening af­ter be­ing hit by a land­slide in the Cwm­d­uad area of Car­marthen­shire.

Pos­ses­sions and earn­ings can be re­placed – a young man’s life can­not.

Car­marthen­shire coun­cil has set up an emer­gency fund to help the scores of homes and busi­nesses in­un­dated by flood­wa­ter from Storm Cal­lum and the author­ity says that £3m will be needed to re­pair high­way in­fra­struc­ture alone in the county fol­low­ing “the worst flood­ing seen in the area for over 30 years”.

The flood of 1987 re­mains in the minds of ev­ery­one who wit­nessed the car­nage that spread through parts of the county on those Oc­to­ber days more than three decades ago.

Prince Charles and Princess Di­ana walked the streets of Pen­sarn to as­sess the scale of what had hap­pened. Homes and busi­nesses were never quite the same but the area stood up, brushed away the rain, and got back on its feet and this past week has seen his­tory re­peat it­self.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – Car­marthen and its sur­round­ing ar­eas may have changed, but the will of the peo­ple in this part of the world has not.

The Cres­selly Arms in Pon­tar­gothi, dur­ing the flood...

ASH­LEY CROW­DEN

Flood­ing out­side Ken Williams Mo­tors in Car­marthen...

...and one week later

...and the scene on Fri­day

ROBERT ME­LEN

Ei­fion Wil­liam, gen­eral man­ager at Bas­setts Citroen Car­marthen, with some of the cars which were af­fected by the flood­ing

ASH­LEY CROW­DEN

A foot­ball pitch in Aberg­wili last week...

RAD­HIKA KELLY

The River­side Cafe in New­cas­tle Em­lyn dur­ing the floods...

ROBERT ME­LEN

...and af­ter the flood wa­ter re­ceded

ROBERT ME­LEN

...and a week later

ROBERT ME­LEN

ROBERT ME­LEN

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