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Flood Friday

Amphicar search and rescue - a night to remember.

After one of the wettest summer periods ever our part of South Worcestershire / North Gloucestershire experienced an incredible 8 inches of rainfall in one day - this is my story of Friday 20th July 2007.

The signs were not good on the way home mid afternoon, traffic was slow and much talk of delays on the radio. It had been raining hard all day but no sign of what was to come, it has rained a lot in recent weeks but even so the quantity of water on the main roads was amazing. My everyday car is a big Volvo 4x4 and even that was starting to struggle and I had to turn around a few times, picture on the right taken on my cell phone gives some idea.

At home we were waiting for our 11 year old George to arrive back from a school trip, he was due at 4pm. We kept receiving messages that the bus was delayed on the motorway and it would be later - then later ...

At about 9pm we had a message that the bus was stuck at a motorway service station about 10 miles from here. We then had a call from the dad of one of Georges friends, his son was also on the bus, and his son is a diabetic who may be running low on insulin. We needed to get there... only Amphicar was capable but there was a problem.

Just the night before I had decided it would be a good weekend to pull the engine out to fit a new clutch release bearing.  I had removed the engine cover, radiator and exhaust, undone the bell housing bolts and the winch was in place to lift the engine out. At full speed I had to replace everything and get Amphicar running - and it had to be reliable as I was going straight out in to flood water at night.

By 10:30 I was on my way to the service station and I picked up the other Georges dad - who had never been in an Amphicar before. It was only about 12 miles to get there but many of the roads were blocked with abandoned vehicles. In some cases the water was so deep the vehicles that got stuck early on were submerged - and it was dark and still raining. Also some of the vehicles were semi-floating - I will never forget the image of squeezing past a part submerged XC90 with wipers going and alarm screaming that suddenly moved.... It really did feel like the world was ending !!

The motorway service station was unbelievable - I was able to get in via an emergency gateway off a small lane, the motorway itself was hardly moving - even then people had been stuck in the service station for hours and it was absolutely full to capacity.

The cellphone network was also at breaking point but I have two phones on different networks and was able to get a message that the because of the situation at the services the school bus (and three others - almost 150 kids in all) were going to be diverted to the High School at Tewkesbury as it was very close to the motorway and the Police had advised that there was a good chance the busses would get there.

Back in to Amphicar and through the back lanes to get to the school - the water was getting deeper and many times Amphicar was using propellers, a couple of times we nudged something in the water and we had to anticipate the cross currents.

We arrived at the school just after midnight, one bus had arrived there and the rest arrived over the next few hours. The police also directed other school buses to Tewkesbury school and there was soon 200 kids there - but we were stuck.  By now the motorway was closed, there were no roads open in any direction from the major intersection at Tewkesbury and no shops or facilities apart from one very full motel. Literally thousands of people were sleeping in their cars.

My friends son had his insulin and we were thinking about going home. Then the school caretaker came and found me the conversation started  "are you the bloke with the amphibious car ?"  He explained the problem, the school had closed that day for the summer holiday, the kitchens were bare, just a small amount of bread, a bit of orange juice, and 200 children many of whom had not eaten for 12 hours.

The local supermarket is the other side of town, it was built on the flood plain. He had called the manager who was stuck there with 50 staff and customers and was surrounded by deep water the car park had flooded from a few inches to many feet within minutes. He could supply all the food we need but how could we get there. It was too deep for a tractor, there was a stretch of dry road in the way so no good for boats (and there wasn't one at the school anyway) no the only vehicle that could do the job was my Amphicar.

Off we went, Amphicars engine was drowned out by the noise of 5 or 6 "Sea King" rescue helicopters, blokes were coming down on winches plucking people out of the water and off the top of buildings. The trip was part road but mostly water - the water was very deep but we had to look out for what was underneath. The area was lit up by helicopter search lights, as we approached the supermarket we could see and smell the petrol leaking from the petrol station there.

The water was only a few inches short of going inside, we had to park right outside the front door on the paved area. The staff at the supermarket were amazed to see us, we dashed round the store and filled a trolley with bread, milk, cereals, orange juice etc. We put it all in Amphicar and headed back, we made two further trips through the night whilst the kids slept in the sports hall. We unloaded all of the food in to the school kitchens (picture right) and as the sun came up and the kids woke up they could all be "fed and watered". 

At this stage we had no real idea how bad the situation was outside. Most people had to wait a few more hours for the motorway to re-open (and even then took many hours to get anywhere) but of course Amphicar was able to sneak off and in daylight we could see for the first time how deep the water was and the devastation it had caused. There are a few more pictures below.

Once Amphicar had arrived home the situation around us in Upton upon Severn actually became worse. The flash flood water reached the rivers and up they came - to the highest levels for 40 years - and it was another 5 days before the water started to go down. Just south of us over 100,000 people lost drinking water as the flooding defences at the water treatment works failed and it almost became much worse... the water was just a few inches away from taking out a major electricity power station which would have cut power to half a million homes and prompted a mass evacuation.

Amphicar was involved in a few more rescues over the weekend - including the classic "pregnant lady" rescue and also moving people and supplies around town.

More pictures, these three were taken Saturday morning on the way home


And an aerial picture of Tewkesbury from the air taken on 21st July:

ps - For young people reading this, 2007 is before the Smartphone, Facebook, Twitter and the mobile news sources we now take for granted !