Staff praised for response to floods, storms and ice

A combination of storms, flooding, and sub-zero temperatures caused problems for hundreds of households over the festive period – but help was at hand, even on Christmas Day.

Oxfordshire County Council’s highways, fire and rescue, adult social care, transport and emergency planning teams have been praised for their round the clock response to Storm Bella, widespread flooding and icy conditions over the Christmas and new year period, which included the evacuation of two care homes.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “I want to express my gratitude to all our staff who came to the aid of residents in need of their help during what should have been a time of celebration. While Christmas was already affected by COVID-19 restrictions, scores of families had their festive period ruined by the impact of flooding on their homes.

“On a visit to one of the affected areas in Tackley, I saw first-hand how our firefighters tackled the flooding and am full of admiration for their professionalism and dedication as they do what is required, whatever the weather and whatever the time of year. I must also mention our staff who carried out preventative measures, to limit the impact and those behind the scenes who coordinated this huge response. They are all unsung heroes.”

Adult social care and fire and rescue staff were called to a care home in the early hours of Christmas Eve. The home needed to be evacuated after its ground floor flooded when a nearby river burst its banks. All its elderly residents – plus one cat – were found new accommodation together before the end of the day.

Karen Fuller, Deputy Director for Adult Social Care, said: “This was a great example of partnership working! A number of staff across many organisations came together along with support from the community, to work tirelessly into the evening to ensure residents affected were kept safe and alternative accommodation found for them. It was a heart-warming Christmas story demonstrating people’s kindness, dedication and willingness to help, resulting in a great outcome for the residents, from what was a frightening and unsettling experience. The response from our staff was outstanding.”

Residents were first moved to the village hall where they were cared for throughout the day and provided with food and warmth, while their new accommodation was prepared at a new wing of a nearby care home. The empty rooms were transformed into a functioning wing with the installation of beds, tailored equipment and some of the residents’ belongings. It meant they all could stay together with the familiar faces of their co-residents and their usual care staff over this turbulent festive period, where they remain at the moment.

Staff were called into action again on Christmas Day when another care home flooded and had to be evacuated. The residents have since been able to return to the home.

Between Christmas and the new year, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (OFRS) attended 70 flood related incidents although many of these calls involved multiple properties, meaning the number of homes or people assisted was even higher.

OFRS crews pumped out water for some incidents, where possible. Staff also had to deal with properties affected by flood water and sewage, including the evacuation of properties. The situation was exacerbated by high groundwater, which led to drainage and sewerage being inundated with water.

As well as flooding caused by heavy rainfall, there were two incidents in Abingdon, which involved a burst water main affecting homes.

Around Christmas, Oxfordshire County Council set up a severe weather desk due to the number of flooding and wind related calls being received. During a six hour period, it received more than 40 calls about trees being blown down and numerous properties flooding that needed help.

A number of roads had to be closed due to surface water flooding and many vehicles needed to be rescued from flood water. During this period, approximately 25,000 sandbags were distributed by the county council to at risk or already flooded properties, and crews worked round the clock to keep on top of the demand.

A sharp drop in temperatures around Christmas Eve also brought the county council’s gritting teams into action. Sub-zero temperatures. mixed with the already wet and flooded roads, made both treatment and driving difficult in places.

Since Christmas Eve, the gritters have been out at least a dozen times, using nearly 2,500 tonnes of salt across 1,200 miles of treated network – a total length of road network treated during that period of more than 14,000 miles.

There are still flood alerts in place in Oxfordshire. Visit GOV.UK for more information. For one-stop advice about what to do and how to get help before, during and after a flooding incident visit the county council’s Oxfordshire Flood Toolkit.