‘Anxiety and disbelief’: Didsbury community on the night they were evacuated amid Storm Christoph
It was around 11.30pm when two police officers knocked on Thomas Arthur’s door asking him to leave his Northenden home.
The River Mersey, at its highest level on record, was dangerously close to bursting its banks following 24 hours of torrential rainfall.
The river came just 2cm away from breaching its banks as water flowed into flood basins and residents watched on nervously.
Around 2,000 homes and businesses in south Manchester were told to evacuate as Storm Christoph battered the region.
The Environment Agency issued a threat to life warning as the Wythenshawe Forum was opened as an evacuation centre.
Thomas moved his belongings upstairs and as the rain turned to thick snow he prepared to leave for a friend’s house.
“The walk was desolate, a strange ominous film scene. Police and flashing blue lights, only a handful of people and no cars, all whilst the skies dumped thick snow just to add to everything.
“Friends offered help and homes to stay and we finally settled in somewhere around 12.45am, but we’ve had only tiny bits of interrupted sleep whilst we worried about our house and about Northenden.
“The emergency services were great. The police gave clear instructions, there were hotel options for anyone self-isolating or symptomatic as well. It felt controlled and planned, which was incredibly reassuring”, he said.
“It was worrying. We knew the river was going to peak at 4 or 5am”
In neighbouring Didsbury, Christine Draper prepared her home by moving furniture onto tables and putting sandbags at the door.
“Firemen knocked on our door at 10pm. They wanted to know who was staying and who was going. It was worrying. We knew the river was going to peak at 4 or 5am. Everyone was concerned about that.
“Me and my two daughters went to stay with my mum in Burnage as she’s in our bubble.
“My husband stayed – he wanted to keep an eye on the water levels. The flood basin was going into Millgate Fields near our house.
“The floodgates opened and water was going into gardens,” she said.
“When people came in they were stressed and unsure. Within half an hour they were laughing and joking.”
Tracey Pook, community engagement coordinator at Didsbury Mosque, knew she had to step in and help when she turned on the news at 6pm.
“When I finished work and went home, I put on the news and saw what was going on – 3,000 properties at risk of flooding. I phoned the CEO and said ‘can we do something?'”, she said on Thursday morning.
“I said ‘shall we open the mosque’? I got in a taxi and we had the mosque open for 8pm. I have been here all night. I’ve not been to sleep.
“It’s been nice. We have been talking to keep our spirits up. Four people came here in total. When people came in they were stressed and unsure about what was going on. Some hadn’t been in a mosque before. Within half an hour they were laughing and joking.”
The group spent the night chatting. In the morning they had a breakfast of poached eggs, beans on toast and orange juice.
“Most people went to their families and friends. About 50 people went to Wythenshawe Forum.
“We are part of the community. It doesn’t matter what religious background you are from”, she said.
Lib Dem Councillor for West Didsbury, Richard Kilpatrick, was one of the four people who stayed overnight at the mosque.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News in the early hours of the morning, he said: “Police came knocking on doors in The Beeches area at around midnight to tell people they needed to leave.
“The atmosphere has been a mixture of anxiety and disbelief I think,” he said.
“The community response has been great. I helped set up Didsbury mosque to accept people who may need to evacuate hoping that we would not need it.
“I helped door knocking to inform residents.
“We packed for a couple of nights and after checking in at the mosque we have gone to stay with family.
“We are fine and spirits are high. We just don’t expect it to happen here, the defences have always been enough.
“As I left the mosque people were just arriving after GMP and fire and rescue were referring people to it.
“I think residents are coming together to help each other it’s what we did during the pandemic and it’s what will happen now.”
“The backdoor is definitely underwater”
“It’s like a nail in the coffin”, said Didsbury Sports Ground director Arthur Crabtree.
The club, on Ford Lane near to the River Mersey, has been shut all year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And on Wednesday night the car park became submerged in knee-deep water as Storm Christoph battered the region.
Owners of the club, located next to a flood basin, looked on nervously as water in the River Mersey rose.
Arthur, 33, hasn’t been able to get inside the building yet, but he is convinced the water will have flooded through the backdoor.
“It got up to a metre in height”, he said.
“We aren’t sure what’s happened. We raised the building about ten years ago due to flooding.
“The backdoor is definitely underwater. It will have come through the back door. There will be silt from the river, everything will need power washing, and a paint job as well. It’s like a kick in the teeth”, he said.