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Summer floods

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the June 2013 issue of Spotlight

Earlier that day, Guy had walked across the bridge after buying his morning paper. He had seen how the river had begun to cover the meadow, making it more of an adventure than usual for the morning dog-walkers. Since then, the rain had fallen steadily on to the soaked earth, filling fields and lower-lying lanes. It had now stopped, but the river was still rising by the hour. After lunch, Guy took his camera and walked off to record the life of the town.

At the riverside water park, where the children had laughed and played in the sunshine just weeks earlier, the fountains were now under water. Guy took pictures of teenagers dancing in the deluge. On the bridge, he photographed water lapping at the high banks protecting the old houses clustered around St Helen’s, the spire of which had seen it all before down the centuries.

Heading out of town, Guy turned down a farm path. He looked up as he heard the distinctive mew of the red kites and watched the sky until he saw them: magnificent birds, once a rare sight in this part of the country. Now it was common to see them flying over fields, parks and gardens, looking for easy pickings.

“Like vultures,” thought Guy as he stared at the pair now circling in the sky ahead of him.

Although he was wearing wellington boots, he had not intended to walk far along the flooded lane. Interested to see what had attracted the kites, he made his way carefully, testing the waters ahead for hidden dangers.

At a curve in the lane lay a picnic area. By one of the two wooden tables stood a small, wet dog. It barked when it saw him.

“Where’s your owner?” asked Guy. Further up the flooded lane, in the direction in which the dog was looking, he spotted a movement in the water — a hand in the air, a hat on a head.

Moving as fast as he could, Guy waded towards the man, whose head and shoulders seemed to rise up from the road. The man’s face was the same grey colour as his hat. Only his head, neck and the tops of his shoulders were showing above the open drain he had stepped into. Putting his hands under the old man’s shoulders, Guy tried to pull him up. The man screamed. “My foot! It’s stuck!” he gasped. As Guy fumbled for his phone, it slipped from his wet hand and disappeared into the murky water.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he told the man and set off as fast as he could back up the lane. Reaching its end, he ran across the bridge and shouted to the teenagers still playing around in the water park.

“There’s an old man. He’s going to drown. Phone police, ambulance, fire engine — Rye Lane — now!” As two of the children took out their phones to call, the other three jumped out of the water and ran past Guy. When he returned to the drain, he found the two boys and the girl there. He could see that the old man was in a bad way, and the water had risen up to his neck.

“Hold him,” the girl ordered Guy. He squatted, placing his hands under the man’s arms.

The girl lay down in the water and pushed her right arm into the drain, fishing around, checking the size and shape. Turning her head, she called: “Hold my legs! Pull me up if I struggle.” With this, she moved slowly forward and down into the drain while the stunned boys held on to her feet. Her head and body disappeared into the water until only her shoes were visible, her friends hanging on desperately. After what must have been just seconds, but seemed much longer, her feet jerked and the boys pulled her up.

Gasping, she sat in the water for a moment while the old man moaned quietly. “No good,” she said. “Need to go back down. Hold tight!” With this, she turned and crawled once again into the churning water, the boys only just having time to grab her feet before she disappeared. She seemed to be gone even longer this time, and when her feet jerked again, Guy shouted: “Get her out, for God’s sake!”

They pulled her out. Her face red, she retched, unable to speak. She waved her arms and pointed at the old man, gesturing: “Pull him up! Pull him up!” The boys leapt to help, and together they were able to lift the man from the water just as two firemen arrived, followed by paramedics.

As they took the old man to a waiting ambulance, Guy looked up to the sky again for the circling red kites, but they were nowhere to be seen.

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