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Home / Sporting Events / Fishing / The tears, fears and gritty determination to rebuild lives after the devastation of Storm Dennis

The tears, fears and gritty determination to rebuild lives after the devastation of Storm Dennis

It’s a pleasant, sunny day in Pontypridd, temperate for this time of year.

The sunshine glints above the hills that surround the town and the vista is that of a picture postcard.

The weather system has finally brought a much needed inner calm to the valleys, a week after Storm Dennis wrought devastation in the town, a month’s worth of rain falling in a 24-hour deluge causing rivers to swell and burst their banks across the region.

Besides the Taff in Sion Street, the scene is in marked contrast to seven days ago.

Then, footage showed people emptying buckets of water back into the River Taff after homes were rapidly flooded, the river rising to unprecedented levels giving householders no time to act as water forced its way into their homes.

(Image: Richard Swingler)

The same scene now, a week later
(Image: Richard Swingler)

A large tree jammed to the opposite bank of the river is the first clue of the chaos that unfolded here a week ago when the inexorable, unstoppable force of Mother Nature devastated all in its path.

Looking at the river level of the Taff, it’s at least 12ft to the top of the bank, which gives you an idea of the staggering volume of rain that fell last weekend to cause the river to burst its banks and devastate the homes on the street.

What’s left now is both the visual and emotional effects of the flood. 

Closer inspection of the road, pavement and walls of the rows of houses in Sion Street show the unpleasant by-product of the flooding –  mud and sludge is still much in evidence.

Many on the street have left their homes – due to them being uninhabitable downstairs for the time being – either to stay with relatives or, if in rented accommodation, to be rehoused.

A flood-damaged sofa sits outside a property
(Image: Richard Swingler)

One of those still remaining is 56-year-old Kevin Kidner.

A butcher in Pontypridd Market, he’s resolutely philosophical about what he’s been through, and determined to bounce back from the ordeal he and his neighbours have suffered.

Clearing tiles from his kitchen floor into a nearby skip when I approach him, he tells a harrowing story of watching helplessly as the sheer force of the river burst its banks and washed all before it.

“It was around 11pm on the Saturday night and I could see the river rising and there was water on the road, so I moved my van to my son’s house who lives up the road behind me,” said Kevin, who owns a butchers business in Pontypridd market.

“There’s a  grass embankment opposite and when that disappears below the water level then you know the river is very high.

“Within 20 minutes it got to our front doors and just kept on rising coming into the house where it kept climbing until there was three or four feet of water in the house. The water was also forced up through the drains on the front of the street to the drains behind so we had four feet of water in our gardens also.”

Kevin’s home in Sion Street
(Image: Richard Swingler)

He added: “It started coming through the front of the house, so we started to try and clear that. It was coming through the back and all the way through the house. We just decided there was nothing we could do – we just gave up.

“We tried to move the stuff as fast as we could but the water was coming in so quick.

“When you’re standing there and watching it come in over your gate you’re thinking, yeah we’re buggered,” he laughed ruefully.

See what it’s like one week on from the floods in Pontypridd:


It was around 4am when the river hit its height and the damage that it had caused across the valleys became frighteningly apparent.

“The things we saw coming down the river were terrifying,” he said.

“A taxi had been washed away and came past us down the river with its lights still on, we were all shouting to see if anybody was in it, then two shipping containers washed passed us, one of them hit the bridge and it sounded like a bomb had exploded.”

As light dawned on the street, neighbours helped bail water out of each others homes.

The flooding at its height
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Then help arrived and didn’t stop. At one point there were more than 70 volunteers on the street in a show of community, that if nothing else reaffirms your faith in humanity at a time when it’s vitally needed.

“It’s been fantastic, we can’t thank people enough,” said Kevin. “Everybody on this road has helped each other. Even children came around with buckets. They worked solidly for hours – they were just brilliant. I know in times of crisis the community comes together but the support has been brilliant from everybody.”

Luckily Kevin has insurance and is covered, but he knows the clean-up will take weeks.

Inviting me into his house, it’s the damp smell that hits you first. Then there’s the low thrum and hum of dehumidifiers and industrial strength blowers drying out the empty shell that is the lower half of his home.

The extent of how high the water reached can be seen by the wallpaper removed from the wall at the height the flood hit.

“It reached the fifth step of the stairs and was up to waist height on me,” he said.

People armed with buckets help try to protect properties
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Kevin has actually seen flooding like this before. Originally from Cardiff, he was 15 in 1979 when flooding hit the city when the Taff burst its banks in Pontypridd and the Welsh capital.

“Where I lived escaped the worst of it but we could see much of Llandaff North and Hailey Park under water,” he recalled.

A keen angler, he and his wife bought the house in Sion Street five years ago after falling in love with it.

“We searched all over but fell in love with the house and where it is. I love fishing and it’s perfect for work.

“I love the river and the wildlife and the kingfishers and otters. I certainly don’t want to move from here.

“It’s one of those things. I doubt this will ever happen again in my lifetime.”

Kevin shows the damage inside his home
(Image: Richard Swingler)

The dad of two is philosophical about his plight but says it hits him when he wakes up in the morning.

“The hardest is getting up in the mornings thinking you’ve got to go to work and then you walk through the upstairs and everything is fine, but it’s when you come downstairs that it hits you, that feeling of ‘oh god, look at this mess’.”

For one of Kevin’s neighbours, Kerry Robson, 46, the flood has had a series of unfortunate consequences. He recently bought a house further up the street, which is on raised ground and escaped the worst of the flooding. However, he had recently transferred the insurance from his other house further down the street which was flooded out, to his new home.

Kerry Robson inside his home

He lost nearly all of his possessions in the downstairs of the home he was due to move out of.

“I took the insurance off the one house to put on the other house,” he said.

“The downstairs is ruined. No-one is ever going to buy it now. The estate agent was going to be coming up last Sunday morning to take pictures to put it online.”

He added: “Trying to sell a house on this road, no-one will buy here after this. I can rent it out I guess but it will take me a while to get it done because I had no insurance and have no money to put it right. It will take five or six weeks to dry it out and I guess I’ll have to get a loan to sort it out.

“As I was moving out I had packed boxes of all my things and brought them downstairs, now everything is gone.

“I’ve got a bed and I managed to get a sofa from my mum’s house so I’ve got somewhere to sit at least.

“I’m not even sure what day it is at the moment. But you just have to get on with it.

“People around here have been amazing. I can’t speak highly enough of how everybody has rallied together and been there for each other. It reminds you of how much community spirit there is and how much good there is in people.”

And if there’s anything to take away from this disaster it’s the strength and of the community and the bonds that tie people together.

The human spirit has never been more alive than it has this week in Pontypridd.

Further down the river, in Taff’s Well, there were more problems.

“We have lost everything,” said Alison Jones, owner of Little Friends nursery, which was based at Park Pavilion.

The nursery flooded overnight between Saturday, February 15, into the early hours of Sunday morning.

That evening, Alison was celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport.

Early on Sunday morning, she was woken by a phone call from her mum, saying she had seen a picture on social media showing the park underwater.

Alison’s daughter, Lauren Forward, who is deputy manger, saw the photos too.

The nursery and bowls club were underwater
(Image: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency)

Lauren Forward, deputy manger of Little Friends nursery
(Image: Mark Lewis)

They rushed to the park and found the pavilion “totally underwater”, with the water level up to the roof.

Lauren said: “All we did all day on Sunday was stand at the gates and watch the water. There was nothing else we could do. We didn’t really know what to think.”

By Monday morning, the water had gone down, but they were not allowed back into the site to collect their belongings – which were floating around outside.

Mum and daughter did not know the extent of the damage inside the building, which they rent from the Friends of Taff’s Well Park.

They were finally allowed inside on Tuesday and were “speechless” when they saw the scale of devastation.

Inside Little Friends playgroup after Storm Dennis


As she approached the building, Alison could see the shed – which was full of outdoor play equipment like balls and skittles – had been washed from the garden.

Together with Lauren, she picked her way through the thick mud on the path, seeing toy cars covered in silt, fence panels lying on the ground and toys stuck in the hedge.

Lauren said it was “shocking” as they gingerly made their way inside, clinging to their torches, as there was no electricity to turn the lights on.

They had to break the door down, as the lock was jammed, and their torch beams illuminated books submerged in mud, chairs lying on their side and everything covered in thick, deep sediment.

“You would only understand how everything is everywhere if you knew what it was like before,” said Lauren.

The path was covered in mud and toys had been washed into the hedge
(Image: Little Friends)

As they walked around the nursery, they saw dressing up clothes lying in the mud – destroyed.

In the middle of the debris sat a toy dining table, still set up to play tea time, with flowers in the middle, surrounded by tea cups, but now the lace tablecloth was dirty and stained.

“We can only assume the table has floated really gently and left everything perfect,” said Lauren, holding back tears.

Picking through the debris, with rubber gloves on, she said the kitchen was “completely gone”.

Her mum added: “Everything is completely turned upsidedown. Somebody described it as like being in a washing machine. It is just devastating.”

Inside the playroom, everything was covered in silt and sediment
(Image: Little Friends)

Some of their displays remained on the wall, but all their community play equipment was destroyed.

Walking into the playroom, they noticed sequins dry and safe in their pots. Lauren said the table with them on must have floated on top of the floodwater as levels were rising, like the dining table.

“The whole place is just overturned,” she said. “All our displays, our filing cabinet – everything is ruined inside. So we have lost everything there.”

Alison and Lauren were most upset about the children’s work being lost. The nursery has more than 50 children on its books.

“We’ve not been able to salvage any of it,” said Lauren. “That is breaking us more than anything. We’ve tried our best. We were hoping the top shelf would be fine, but it has completely collapsed.”

In the middle of the destruction, a toy dining table remained set up for tea
(Image: Little Friends)

Her mum added: “This is the hardest bit for us. This is work we cannot replace. I just can’t speak…”

They found all their soft play had gone, new resources, and their whiteboard.

Lauren said: “It’s impossible to try and explain. Everything that’s in here, everything’s lost. There’s not a lot we can do. We’re trying our best.”

Alison added: “All we can ask is for parents to bear with us for a bit. We have got a big sort out and a big clear-up to do.”

Many parents have offered to help, with some offering to clean and others offering to help repaint, rebuild and buy new equipment.

The kitchen was destroyed
(Image: Little Friends)

One parent said: “It breaks my heart seeing this. All the work and effort [they] have put into this place and it’s all gone.”

On Thursday, Alison closed the doors to the pavilion for the last time.

She said: “Four years ago, I was celebrating passing my Care Inspectorate Wales registration and opening the doors of the pavilion to welcome all our ‘Little Friends’.

“Now I’m locking those same doors for the last time. The emotion I am feeling, words just cannot begin to explain…”

Read More

Major stories from Storm Dennis floods

She said it was “devastating” to have to start from scratch again, but she was overwhelmed by the “phenomenal” love and support everyone had shown.

A week on, Alison and Lauren have managed to arrange a temporary site at Ty Rhiw Community Centre in Abbey Close while they work towards a new “forever home”.

The new temporary home at Ty Rhiw Community Centre
(Image: Little Friends)

Alison and Lauren are doing everything they can to get up and running again.

They will not be able to run on Wednesday afternoons at the moment, but she said: “That is a very small price to pay for us to be up and running again so soon after this disaster.”

Alison said: “Some of our children have lost their homes. It is just important for us to get some normality back for them.”

They are planning to open on Monday morning and although they feel sad about shutting the doors to the pavilion, they said they knew all the families would support them in their “new adventures”.

Elsewhere, Dawn Pieta, from Six Bells in Abertillery, said the stream in her garden flooded, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. 

“We have so much debris around the house,” she said.

Dawn Pieta, from from Six Bells in Abertillery, said the stream in her garden flooded
(Image: Dawn Pieta)

(Image: Dawn Pieta)

Dawn said she was left with ‘tonnes and tonnes’ of debris in her garden
(Image: Dawn Pieta)

The 60-year-old said she felt “desperate”, as she spent £20,000 last year on measures to prevent flooding.

She said she and her civil partner laid pipes aiming to help with drainage, but the flood ripped the pipes out.

Dawn said she felt “very stressed”, adding: “I was thinking we did not need to worry, then the storm came. Now we have tonnes and tonnes of debris.”

The couple’s garden was was under 2ft of water in places, but luckily their home stayed dry, thanks to a flood gate.

Dawn said she was now concerned about further flooding, with more heavy rain expected. She added: “It is just devastating. I just can’t sleep.”

Mond Valley Golf Club, in the Swansea Valley, closed temporarily after being completely submerged in water on Sunday last week.

The grounds were submerged in water after the River Tawe burst its banks
(Image: Kristian McCoy)

The popular golf club in Clydach is located just above the River Tawe, which burst its banks during Storm Dennis.

Water saturated the course and reached around 5ft deep in the club’s popular function room.

Two days later, the course was no longer underwater and the club said golf resumed six days after the flood.

The Newport High School Old Boys Rugby Club in Caerleon had its pitch completely flooded and its club house heavily damaged during the storm.

The club was left with no power, and equipment such as pumps for showers, fridges and boilers were destroyed.

Mike Casey set up a campaign on Go Fund Me following the flood.

The pitch was completely flooded during Storm Dennis
(Image: Newport HSOB RFC)

Much of the club’s interior, including fridges and stock, was destroyed
(Image: Newport HSOB RFC)

He said: “In the wake of Storm Dennis, our club has been heavily damaged by flooding.

“All equipment such as pumps for showers, boilers and fridges have been destroyed.”

Within a week, the appeal raised more than £7,000 of its £10,000 goal, with the money raised going to the repair efforts for all age groups and teams.

As the clean-up effort continues, there are still multiple flood warnings and flood alerts in place from Natural Resources Wales.

But all those affected by flooding can do right now is get on with trying to fix what’s broken, and hope something can be done to stop it all from ever happening again.

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