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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
George Lythgoe

'We've lost everything AGAIN' - Flood victims left in waist-high water filled with human waste

It was 'devastation' and 'heartbreak' yet again for flood victims in Leigh after waist-high water filled with human waste wreaked havoc on their homes.

Heavy rainfall from the thunderstorm on Monday night (June 12) left those on the Higher Folds Estate wading through water which breached recently installed flood defences. Many in Sterling Close have lost everything once more, just like they did back in 2021 when Storm Christoph caused flash flooding.

Sue Andrews, who was evacuated from her home two-years-ago due to the floods, said she doesn't want to spend another six months in the Greyhound Hotel - she wants a new council house.

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“A tramp is living better than I am at the moment,” the 52-year-old said. “There are sanitary towels floating around outside the front door and I’ve seen human waste in the water as well.

“The Homeless Hub in Leigh asked us if we would go to stay in the Greyhound. We went there for five and a half months two-years-ago and I don't want to go through that again.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close resident)

“This got me, Ben and June (who live next door on either side to Sue) the worst. Like me, they have all lost everything yet again. I think horse manure smells better than my living room at the moment. We just want out of this property now.”

Sue and her daughter Sharon, who has ADHD, ADD and additional complex needs have been left with no electricity and effectively an unusable downstairs living area. In January 2021, they cashed in their £7,500 holiday in order to replace their flood damaged goods, but this time they don’t have such a luxury.

Standing outside her property with black Labrador Spencer, Sue showed the M.E.N inside her house which has been left devastated. Wigan Council had inputted flood defences after last time which could do little to prevent the four foot high water getting in.

Flies are buzzing around the place and water marks a few feet high can be seen on the side of the stairs, with the carpets all ripped up due to water damage. The family rabbit, whose hutch outside was destroyed by the flood, now lives in what was Sue’s downstairs bedroom.

The street itself, whilst now free of flooding after being pumped over the course of Monday night and the early hours of Tuesday morning, has a distinct smell of sewage. Residents believe that the drains could not cope with the sudden change from hot dry weather to heavy rainfall.

For Sue, cherished memories of her mother who died in 1994 had been lost in the last flood, now she is fearful that what remains of her keepsakes could be lost completely this time around.

Sue Andrews, 52, standing outside her home hit by floods on Sterling Close in Leigh, Wigan (LDRS)

“We have lost everything again,” she added. “I am scared to open my wardrobe (which contains personal memories of her mother). I lost a lot of photos of her in the last floods but I managed to save a few. I am hoping those haven’t been lost as well.”

Everyone on the street reported seeing human waste in the water so are concerned for their hygiene and safety. Even now the water is gone, they do not know what is safe to use.

The cause of the flood, according to United Utilities, was overgrown greenery at Pen Leach Brook which backs onto the street. The water supply company said that the brook was in poor condition, which allowed water to discharge onto the street.

A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “We have met with residents, as well as Wigan Council representatives, on site this week to discuss issues of flooding. Checks on our assets found they were in good condition. It was noted that the brook, which is the responsibility of the landowner, is in poor condition.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close residents)

“This appears to be the cause of the flooding as during heavy rain it affects the discharge to the brook and causes water to back up through the drains. We will continue to engage with residents as well as the landowner and council on this issue.”

Although the water is now clear, the problem is not over for those on Sterling Close, who now have to clean up and rebuild yet again. Mother and daughter duo June Cunningham, 85, and Kerry Cunningham, 45, are also without power and now staying in a hotel at night so they can get some sleep in relative comfort.

In the daytime they come back to the home that June has been in for more than 40 years. The 85-year-old pensioner claims that flooding has always been a risk in the area since she first moved into the council owned home.

“Monday night, it had started raining and I was checking on the community centre when someone said it was flooding so I had to run back down and get the flood barriers in place,“ Kerry said. “We do have metal flood doors installed after the last flood in 2021.

“Now two years later, it has happened again. They work up to a certain height but one of the air bricks installed failed. In the last flood we lost everything. Now we have lost everything again.

Kerry, 45, and June Cunningham, 85, outside their home on Sterling Close, Leigh (LDRS)

“The furniture, the flooring, the electrical goods, a lot of it has got to go. We have been given dehumidifiers by the council but we don’t have any power to use them.

“My concern is that once we have power, how are we going to afford the price of running that? It’s the fact that there is sewage in the water, the human waste is being left in people’s lawns, and sanitary products floating down the street.

“All that water has been in our house and soaked up by the furniture, it’s not like we can just wash the covers and go again. Everything has been contaminated.

“The chairlift will have to be replaced because we can’t use that anymore. The first time it happens it’s a freak accident, but when it happens again two years later they still say it is a freak accident.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close residents)

“How often does it have to happen for it not to be considered a freak accident? It clearly isn’t at this point.”

The pair do not even know where to start with the clean up job because they don’t know if the next rainfall due in the coming days will cause another flood. The Higher Folds estate area is currently a high-risk area for flooding according to the Environmental Agency website.

June said she doesn’t want to move house at her age, because she has lived on the street for almost half her life.

Although this street was not the only area to experience flooding issues in Greater Manchester, with Mosley Common nearby also impacted, this has been one step too far for Gen.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close resident)

Gen, who has a young son now terrified by a cloud coming over in case of rain, is desperate to move. Living opposite Sue Andrews, she did not feel the same devastation as some of her neighbours, but still had flood water in her kitchen and hallway.

“I can’t stay here now,” she said. “Everyone, not just me, has had enough and they don’t want to live here anymore. The more I think about my son I get upset. I just could not calm him down at all (on Monday night).

“He was absolutely hysterical. It really upsets me to see him like that."

Some residents in council owned homes on the street want to move, but this would require re-joining the waiting list for housing. The time to get a council house can vary depending on a number of factors and requirements, which means many are put off from applying again.

For those who own their homes on Royal Drive - which connects to Sterling Close - moving away is not an option. Ben Hogg, who neighbours Sue Andrews, believes he will not be able to sell up even if he wanted to now due to the flood issues.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close residents)

He claimed that the house will now be a much lower value than what he paid for it when he moved in eight years ago. Cleaning up his garden and ripping up his flooring impacted by the floods, Ben was left feeling angry.

“I’m on the dip so all the ground floor got flooded and it came up to the skirting board,” he said. “I have had to rip up all the flooring.

“The walls will have to be redone, the ground floor is ruined. I’m pretty angry that the council has been only to the council owned homes and not to any of the homeowners.

“There’s been loads of council workers around for damage control but no one comes to the homeowners. They’ve said there is nothing they can do for us.

“This is the third time it’s happened since I’ve lived here and this is the worst it’s been. I wasn’t here when it happened as I was called to come home, I had only just got to Wales at 5pm but I was home by 9pm.

Impact of the floods on June 12 in Sterling Close, Leigh, Wigan (Sterling Close residents)

“I couldn't drive to the property so I had to wade through all the water with sewage in it. It was devastating. I’d just got the house right and now I have to take it all apart again. I couldn’t move if I wanted to because the property value has decreased.

"You worry when you see a rain cloud now. We thought we were safe but clearly we’re not. Is there any point doing anything really?”

According to the Met Office weather forecast, Leigh is expecting more rainfall on Sunday evening through to Monday, so many of the residents are now bracing themselves for the worst.

Julie Middlehurst, Wigan Council’s assistant director for infrastructure, said: “Since the heavy rainfall on Monday, our teams have been working closely with residents affected by flooding and will continue to do so until the issue is sufficiently managed by all agencies responsible.

“All authorities and agencies involved are aware of the events of earlier this week. Wigan Council is working alongside the Environment Agency, United Utilities, and the Forestry Commission to look at carrying out appropriate works that would aim to reduce the potential risk of flooding.”

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