At 5:45 on a Monday morning, I woke to our door buzzer being pressed, a faint but persistent banging on the front door and sounds of muffled voices 3 levels below me. Drunkards, I thought sleepily, not impractical for our home being a corner away from the high street and pubs, though odd, it being a Monday and not the weekend. I drifted back to sleep for a few minutes (could have been 10) before the door bell buzzing started again, more aggressively this time. I was annoyed now, and briefly considered the outcome of stomping downstairs and yelling at these people to go away – with heavy hesitation, of course, as drunk people are not ones to consider logic reasoning. I decided to glance out my window to see what size composition my hypothetical opponents were, only to see the flashing blue lights of police car sirens and hear the gushing sound of a heavy rain storm. Ah bless the UK, I thought, police in this country respond so quickly to public intoxication. But wait. Rain? I didn’t see rain. Where is the sound of this strong water current coming from? My sleepy mind fog wasn’t helping the effectiveness of my thought process. Rubbing my eyes, I heard the distant shout of, “POLICE, open the door, we need to evacuate you immediately!” Followed by another ‘thud thud thud’ on the front door. I opened my door simultaneously with AY whose deep slumber was also awoken by the same disturbance. Both with sleepy confusion masked on our faces, we knew that the other had no idea what was going on. I opened our flat door tentatively only to be greeted by a huffed police officer (too many donuts for you, sir) telling us that he’d been trying to get us to open the door for a very long time. He told us to come out immediately as our street was flooding. Due to such urgent persuasion, AY and I grabbed a jacket to put over our pjs, took our phones and ran downstairs. When I opened the door, I realised the rain storm I heard from my bedroom was in fact a gushing stream that was flowing down our street, caused by a burst main pipe from the main street. The water came up to halfway up my knees as I waded through with police instruction to get to the pub across the road which was open and giving out teas to us refugees. AY, on the other hand, was clinging onto the front porch fence as a desperate attempt to not get wet, but the police were not in the mood to entertain and pulled her off, telling her ‘it’s only water’. More like an angry river ready to consume any unfortunate puppy or small creature in its path.
We managed to reach the pub a little after 6am, cold, with miserably wet feet, still confused with what had just happened but gained solace from other fellow refugees who had also been evacuated from their homes. We met the ogre from our upstairs flat for the first time, and despite friendly neighbour to neighbour conversation being the last thing I wanted to engage in at the time, he would not stop talking to me. By 8am, the water pipe still pumping out gallons of water per second, AY and I accepted that we wouldn’t be going to work anytime soon and messaged our respective managers to let them know, though still hoping we would make it in by noon.
I was getting hungry by this time, and could not believe we were the only ones who ran out of our homes without bringing our wallets. Or changing, for that matter. All the other refugees were either dressed for a fancy afternoon tea or ready for work. AY and I looked at eachother multiple times, in our unflattering pjs and mismatched shoes, noting for future reference that unless our lives were in immediate danger with a fire or the likes, we would take our sweet ass time ‘evacuating’.
By 8am we made it onto the news and saw reporters conducting several interviews inside the pub. By 8:30am, Thames Water had finally arrived to fix the problem, and the council had organised a proper refugee camp at a hall inside the Business Design Centre a few steps away from our current stakeout. At least they provided unlimited platters of biscuits. I don’t think I’ve eaten that many biscuits at one sitting in my life. We were given updates sporadically by the heads of police, council, fire brigade and Thames Water; the main messages being that they couldn’t figure out how to turn off the pipe, and hours later once they had, they would need more hours to get rid of the water in basement flats which were flooded to their ceilings, and then a few hours after that to assess the building and electrical safety of each flat. Greeeeaattttt. Our fellow refugees trickled in and out of the centre, buying new clothes to replace their wet ones, going to work, socialising with eachother, and there AY and I were, misplaced and stuck.
What I did appreciate was the sense of community around, with people sharing their stories of being woken by water trickling into their homes and business stock, a majority of it being antique goods, being destroyed from the flooding. Businesses that weren’t affected, such as the local sushi shop, came by giving out boxes of fresh sushi to everyone (I took full advantage of this even though I was already full from eating refugee soup they handed out). In addition, the store manager of the local Tesco offered their store fridge/freezer for anyone who needed to use it, in addition to groceries. We couldn’t work out whether they were offering groceries for free, so we did not take advantage of this offer, but it was nice of them regardless.
By 3:30pm, people were clearly starting to get impatient, especially since they made us fill out all this repetitive paperwork for police reports and insurance claims. There was a lot of talk about finding alternate accommodation for us if our homes were deemed unsafe. Lots of council staff were drifting around organising medication for people, especially the elderly, who had left theirs behind. We understood safety was a priority and we weren’t the worst off refugees there by far, but all AY and I wanted to do was get out of our embarrassing pjs and regain access to money. We were finally given a string of hope when the police offered to escort us back to our flat for us to ‘only take a look at the damages’. Upon arrival, we slammed the door closed, checked that everything was working, got changed, and escaped from the refugee life by sneaking off to the tube station.
And that folks, was the Great Flood of Central London that I had the displeasure of experiencing.