Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Fire and the Rain

It's been a madly hectic opening few weeks to my year as County Council Chairman as the great expanse of nothingness in this blog will testify.

Olympic Torch Relay
It began with the Olympic Torch procession that saw that famous flame carried by hand, Welsh cob and electric railway through our county from Pembrokeshire and onwards to Montgomeryshire.

The wonderful work of County Council staff and volunteers throughout the county meant that the Torch received a wonderful welcome as it arrived from Pembrokeshire in Cardigan and moved up the coast through Aberaeron and towards Aberystwyth where it stayed overnight. On its arrival, it was welcomed by some 9,000 local residents who were enjoying a free 'party in the park' atmosphere at the Vicarage Fields. It was a wonderful event and the volunteers and Council staff who put in so much time and effort to prepare not only for the Aberystwyth festival but for the whole procession along Ceredigion's coast deserve great praise. We were blessed with fine weather during that Sunday and Monday morning in late May and thousands upon thousands of excited residents, young and young at heart, lined the route to see what really does amount to a 'once in a lifetime' event.

I saw it, not in Cardigan as it entered the county, but in Aberystwyth where, just 48 hours in post, it was my role to officially welcome it to Ceredigion by giving a short 2 minute speech in front of the assembled 9,000 spectators. Even for one as used to public speaking as myself, it was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience.

The flame itself was a good half an hour or so late in arriving to the stage and when it did and I had just about finished my short address of welcome, those iconic bars from 'Chariots of Fire' blasted across the Fields to announce the entrance of that fabled flame. It was a truly spine-tingling moment to see young Kyle proudly run down the perimeter of the site with the Torch hoisted proudly and athletically aloft to the strains of that incredible soundtrack. When he lit the Cauldron to announce that the Olympic Flame had arrived in Aberystwyth for the night, the crowds went absolutely wild. It was a wonderful, wonderful moment and for a sporting fanatic like me, it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to play a small part in that historic ceremony.

The Ceredigion Floods
The following week saw the communities of Ceredigion celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee and they did it in some style. Cardigan had community parties right across town and I was delighted to have been invited to a good many of them. Again, great weather on that Bank Holiday Monday helped lend itself to what was a carnival-like atmosphere and all was good in the world.

But just 5 days later, the weather turned and turned nastily againt the inhabitants of northern Ceredigion in particular.

I had been attending the Royal British Legion Aberystwyth Branch AGM at Llanbadarn's Park Lodge on the Friday night and the Blaendolau Fields had already flooded under the deluge of rain that had carpeted the area for over 24 hours. Now, Blaendolau Fields as anyone who knows Aberystwyth will testify is prone to flooding but little could those of us at that dinner that evening have realised that within barely 4 or 5 hours of the end of that dinner, that very car park would find itself under 2 feet of water.

I had been due to attend the Aberystwyth Show on the Saturday so had decided to stay in Aberystwyth overnight even though we'd heard late on the Friday afternoon that the show had regretfully been cancelled. In hindsight, it was a relief that it was and that the decision to do so had been taken so early because come Saturday morning, great swathes of north Ceredigion were under water.

Parts of Tal-Y-Bont, Dol-Y-Dont, Borth, Capel Bangor and as far inland in Aberystwyth as the Holiday Village all felt the full force of bursting river banks as the sheer volume of water coming down from the Cambrian Mountains made its presence known.

I visited the Relief Centre in Aberystwyth's Penglais Secondary School that afternoon and was told time and again by those that had been displaced by this early morning flood of how thankful they were for the prompt action of the emergency services and for the Council's support in feeding them and keeping them warm whilst alternative accommodation was found for them. Again, I can not express greatly enough how much praise all of the Council's staff and those of the emergency services deserve for ensuring that there were no fatalities or serious injuries in what was the worst case of flooding in Ceredigion in living memory.

The work of the Council staff however, continues, as the recovery mode has gotten underway and we are now faced with months of work in dealing with the devastation left behind in the wake of this, mother nature's latest incarnation.

Residents whose homes were invaded by the torrent and holidaymakers who found their time off turned into a living hell, now deserve prompt action from their insurers so that they can make a start on re-building their lives.

In the meantime, if anyone requires any advice, please contact Ceredigion County Council's Flood Incident Line on 01545 572233 (Monday – Friday 09:00 – 17:00)

For more information and if you would like to donate to the Flood Appeal Fund which has been set-up by the Council Leader Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn, please do so by this visiting this website.

It has been a rollercoaster couple of weeks for us here in Ceredigion as you can then see but, we carry on, for there is no alternative.

Ceredigion remains open for business.

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