Thursday, June 28, 2007

Honey, Get The Canoe...

It is often said that Sheffield is a city built on seven hills. That’s a grand statement, referencing, as it does, ancient Rome. And it glosses over the corresponding geographical feature: valleys.

Sheffield is also a city built in several valleys, through which flow five converging rivers: the Rivelin, the Loxley, the Don, the Sheaf, and the Porter Brook. Indeed, the root of the name Sheffield is Sheaf Feld [flood plain], ‘the flood plain of the river Sheaf’ [and not, as the city and the university coats-of-arms with their sheaves of grain would suggest, Sheaf Field, or ‘field of sheaves’]. So when, on Monday, we had in twenty-four hours the average rainfall for the month of June, the city went back to its roots, lived up to its name.

As features formerly known as roads became rivers and lakes, the local news called the unfolding events an unprecedented tragic disaster for the city. But that is because they come from 40 mile up the road in Leeds, and hadn’t done their homework. Disastrous, yes: for the economy of the city – it is frightening how dependent we are on electricity for doing business, and there is talk of scheduled power cuts for weeks to come while flooded sub-stations are repaired – and for those whose homes have been ruined. Tragic, yes: at least for the families and friends of the two people who lost their lives in the water. But unprecedented, no: the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 claimed 270 lives; and destroyed, totally or in part, 415 homes, 106 factories and shops, 64 other buildings, 20 bridges and 4478 cottage/market gardens. My daughter’s school puts on a play commemorating it every year. The play fell this week, with added relevance…

Living high up on the side of one of those seven hills, we weren’t at risk – or even aware at the time, while across town people were being airlifted by helicopter from their workplaces. But three of the disabled adults I work with were stranded in a car all Monday night, unable to get home after attending a regular social group earlier in the day. Friends of ours have had their businesses flooded out. And friends of ours living down in Hillsborough – in one of the valleys, where we used to live – saw a lot of water. Hillsborough was shut off by the police on Monday. We drove through on Tuesday evening. The water had been moved on – you’d hardly know it had been there – and the only damage we saw was a collapsed retaining wall in front of B&Q. Not a great advertisement for a DIY store ;-)

There is still significant flooding in much of the surrounding region, and other parts of the country too. They are forecasting more heavy rain at the weekend.


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