UK storms: "We're there for the human aspect"

The emotional toll of a flood cannot be underestimated. But the British Red Cross offers hope, warmth and practical support in a storm.

“It was harrowing to see what they had to go back to”, says David Craigie, an Emergency Response volunteer in Tayside, who has responded to the multiple storms that have battered the UK this winter.

“The amount of things that had to be ditched, burned, buried because of the contamination. They’d lost everything.”

The true cost of a flooded home is impossible to measure - to watch all that you’ve worked for, ruined in hours, is heartbreaking. Sentimental items are lost, clothes destroyed, and land ruined. It can feel deeply personal.

And for those isolated by floodwater, often in the pitch black after power loss, the experience is also very frightening.

Winter always brings additional challenges, including a heightened risk of flooding and other extreme weather events. This year is no exception, as the UK has already seen eight named storms hit across the country.

With local authorities under pressure, British Red Cross Emergency Response teams are playing an ever more vital role, before, during and after floods hit.

Nobody left behind

Watch volunteer David Craigie, who lives with a mobility issue that requires him to use two elbow crutches for mobility, describe his response during Storm Gerrit.

Duration of video: 01:16

Why is the UK flooding so much?

Storms Joceyln, Isha and Henk: that’s three named storms so far this year. Is the UK experiencing more storms? Or is it just winter?

According to the Met Office, the storm naming season runs from 1 September to August the following year. Worryingly, this winter’s season is just one named storm away from 2015/16’s entire list. And there’s seven more months to go.

In a guest blog, Hayley Jones from The Met Office says that the increased rainfall is down to a warming climate.

“The current and expected future impact of climate change varies around the world. Here in the UK, climate projections indicate that we can expect hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters from now on.”

It’s something that our teams on the ground have seen first-hand.

“Ten, 15 years ago, all this rain would be snow” continues volunteer David Craigie, pointing to the rolling Tayside hills.


There used to be a slow thaw over the spring period. Now the rainwater just logs, builds up and we get huge floods.

"People are amazed by the breadth of support we provide"

Floods are a tragedy for individuals and communities. But there is hope – the British Red Cross helps people prepare for floods and supports evacuations if the floodwaters do arrive.

And we’ll conduct door-to-door welfare checks when the power goes out.

"We're there for the human aspect of the incident"

"They're amazed by the breadth of support we provide." Watch Cyrus Goodger, Emergency Response volunteer and operational team leader, in Tayside, describes supporting people in acute crisis.

Duration of video: 01:45

As Storm Babet – which received a category red warning - lashed parts of the UK in October, British Red Cross emergency services teams joined a coordinated response with local authorities.

Using specialist emergency vehicles, they supported communities hit by widespread flooding across the UK at rest centres in Brechin, Dundee, Montrose, Rotherham, Hucknall, Chesterfield, Retford and Skegness.

Here, teams provided a kind ear, and a safe, warm and dry space for those who have been evacuated or otherwise impacted by the storm.

Taking pressure off the authorities

Dani, 38, was on call in Manchester during Storm Babet and describes working alongside the Fire Service:

“People were being taken on boats with their pets and whole families. The Fire Service brought them across the water to us and we assessed their needs, and took them to the rest centre.

“We handed out some clean clothes from our ER vehicle, we used the hygiene packs, the winter packs, we provided towels, water, as well as snacks to people who needed it.”

In the centre, people were disorientated and distressed. Dani believes that 90% of the support here provided was emotional.

She remembers supporting a very distressed woman whose cats – her sole companions - were left behind in her flooded house. She asked the Fire Service to get them.

“The British Red Cross were very much needed - and wanted,” she says.

Preparedness is key

With storms and flooding now part of British winter, Chris Davies, British Red Cross UK Director Crisis Response and Community Resilience, believes that adaption is key.

“We saw the shocking images on TV during Storm Babet - communities up and down the UK were left reeling," he says.

Adaptation doesn't always get the attention it deserves. But it's our key to becoming resilient to the effects of climate change.

"We still have time. There’s a lot we can do to adapt."

“With UK winters are getting wetter, it’s vital that our communities have the information they need to be able to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impact of flooding,” he adds.

A huge part of our preparation work is down to our incredible network of highly trained volunteers.

Mike and Susan were part of the emergency response team which helped rural and isolated residents in Aberdeenshire during Storm Babet.

In the days leading up to the storm the team prepared their vehicles and equipment and pre-positioned them in areas which were likely to be worst affected.

A key part of their work was liaising with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) before the storm landed to identify their vulnerable customers.

Before the storm hit, Mike, 60, and his team, knocked on doors to see if they needed any extra help.

“We had already helped SSEN pack bags of emergency food, gloves, and hats and that sort of stuff. And then we handed those out to people as needed,” he said.

Susan, 54, worked alongside Mike and says: “It's always really, really nice to see how appreciative people are. So we just stood at the door, and check, they were okay.”

And it's not just storm Babet that our dedicated teams have been responding to. Red Cross volunteers across the country have been out during storms Ciaran, Henk, Joceyln and Isha too.

Here for communities: prepare for storms

The British Red Cross supports thousands of people each year, whose lives have been turned upside down by storms, floods and climate-related emergencies.

This winter, our teams will continue to respond with warmth, hope, and practical support that lasts for seasons to come.

As we've seen, the risk of flooding is rising; yet despite this our research found that the majority of people in the UK don’t know how to prepare for floods.

Here's how best to prepare for flooding and other weather related emergencies in the UK.

Together, we are the world's emergency responders.

More on storms in the UK...

Here for humanity this winter

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