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FIREFIGHTERS wading waist-deep in freezing water for up to seven hours at a time and an army of local people offering their help were among the most poignant stories to emerge from Manchester’s Boxing Day floods today.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said it believed crew had rescued up to 1,000 people in less than 24 hours when water levels rose so rapidly yesterday that whole towns were cut off.
The human stories behind the shocking and distressing photographs emerged this morning when Chairman of the Fire Authority Councillor David Acton joined the County Fire Officer Peter O’Reilly and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd to chat with crew from Rochdale, Littleborough, Eccles and Bury and say thank you for their efforts.
Cllr Acton said the Service had been at ‘full stretch’ but that firefighters had responded magnificently.
The group heard how firefighters in Radcliffe had waded into waist high water in the Riverside Drive and Selby Close areas to rescue pregnant women, children and vulnerable, elderly people in care homes. Just moments later the town was rocked by a gas explosion when the bridge close to ASDA gave way, ripping a mains supply out which then set alight. Two care homes were also affected in Littleborough where residents were too vulnerable to be evacuated and firefighters moved them upstairs to safety.
Watch Manager Steve Wilcox, who was on duty in Bury, explained: “The first few incidents we went to were things like water in car parks but we went to check the River Irwell and noticed some unusual things floating along – including beer barrels and kitchen utensils – which turned out to be downstream from where the Waterside pub had collapsed into the water in Summerseat. After that it was non-stop – we were absolutely stretched.”
Over the course of the day people across Greater Manchester called 999 for fire service assistance more than 500 times with 300 of those incidents directly flood related. Among the most significant were:
Peter O’Reilly said: “There were many, many calls from individuals just looking for help as water poured into their homes, damaging electrics and power supplies as well as belongings and personal possessions. Crew reported seeing people’s Christmas presents and other things floating out of their homes. One man was swimming across his living room trying to retrieve his slippers.
“But there were many, many tales of people rallying together too. We had people bringing 4x4 vehicles, tractors with flatbed trailers and even boats to incidents to help us. We couldn’t have done it without them and would like to thank each and every person who came out of their homes to help.”
Tony Lloyd thanked the firefighters for their part in the multi-agency response across Manchester.
He said: “When you need public services, you really need them and yesterday we really needed everyone in the fire and rescue service. There were hundreds and thousands of people who were worried and distressed - be it about their homes or family members – or themselves. There’s no doubt these situations bring out the best in people and it’s people like you who make this world a better place.”
At the height of the floods yesterday, which were declared a major incident for Greater Manchester, more than 35 fire engines were out dealing with flooding. In addition, a gas explosion and large house fire in Leigh were managed by crew.
Councillor Acton added: “Off duty firefighters spending time at home with their families for Christmas came in to support the effort and relieve tired colleagues, some of whom had been wading through water for eight hours solid. We are a highly professional service and we have responded magnificently but we were stretched and I was pleased to see others – including Government – recognise the wonderful job carried out by our crew yesterday.”