By Alan Shields…
Unsung heroes from across the flood stricken community of Royal Deeside and further afield united yesterday (FRI) as they start the New Year faced with a massive clean up operation.
Residents, who had just 24 hours earlier been mopping out their properties after the River Dee burst its banks in the village of Ballater, took time out to wish one another a Happy New Year.
Many swapped stories of their own experiences of the flooding on street corners. Others started piling furniture and other ruined possessions outside their homes.
At the height of the flood people found themselves trapped upstairs in houses, static caravans and cars floated away like driftwood and prized possessions were swept away never to be seen again.
Despite fears that some people may not get back into their homes for up to a year and other gripes about the delay to insurance claims over the festive period, many people knuckled down to get on with the clear up.
Rev. David Barr, the parish minister, helped organise door to door visits by volunteers to see what people needed.
He said the community spirit in the days since several feet of water ripped through the village has been “overwhelming”.
He said: “We were worried about rain affecting food left out in the village green this morning.
“I chanced my arm and went into the bar and said ‘listen boys, I need volunteers…’ I never got my sentence finished – there was about 30 folk came out and just started clearing it away.”
The minister, a former Royal Marine with a practical outlook on life, said that although parts of the town had been transformed into disaster zones, there were still moments where everyone had a chance to breathe.
On Hogmanay at the Victoria barracks, where the evacuees were taken, there was a birthday party for a man whose house had flooded.
Rev. Barr said emotions ran high as they shared a drink and put the thoughts of what lies ahead aside for a couple of hours.
He said: “It’s trying to get that normality in this mist of chaos that they’ve got.
“I got a bit emotional when I went down to the no-go area. It’s the personal things – the things that have been swept away as 6ft waves rolled down the street.
“A lot of the people volunteering don’t have a house.”
A Thanksgiving service at Glenmuick Parish Church is to be held tomorrow (SUN) for all those who have given time and donations to help.
Amongst those who will be thanks is Wullie Inglis and other volunteers from the Brothers in Arms motorcycle club, who pitched in to help out in anyway that they could.
His wife Gillie, described by Rev. Barr as a “guardian angel”, was the one who opened up the army barracks to house the evacuees on Wenesday.
She has now unintentionally taken on the role as disaster relief coordinator, organising the volunteers and ensuring everyone is getting what they need.
She said: “The community spirit is great.
“I will be honest the one thing that has annoyed me, even if they have lost everything they are saying give it to someone who needs it more.
“This is the clean up start now.
Others are making sure that everyone can help themselves to food and water laid out in a tent in the village green.
One woman, who did not wish to be named, drove up from her home in England to spend New Year with her sons, who live in Aberdeen.
But she left them as soon as she heard of the flooding.
And on a bitterly cold Hogmanay she stood and handed out food packages in the village green.
She left at 2am on New Years morning to sleep in the church before doing it all again yesterday.
She said: “I’ll see my sons another time.
“The people here need me more.
“I love people and I love being able to help. Being able to spend Hogmanay and New Year doing that is a privilege.”
A convoy filled with food headed off west yesterday after getting clearance to go through the Queen’s Balmoral Estate to help others who have been cut off by road closures.
Another headed east, courtesy of Aberdeen’s Road Mutts motorcycle club, to hand perishables over to the Salvation Army.
More bikers went door to door to check on elderly residents and those with young children.
Shaun McCard is part of Aberdeen Bike Night, a group of motorcyclists who now do charity runs and events to give back to the community.
Shaun grew up in Ballater and still has family in the area. Over the past few days he and the other members of the group have walked from one end of the village to the other lending a hand where needed.
He arrived with a 50 pounds donation of food from a supermarket in Aberdeen. Other shops have followed suit with donations.
He said: “We are just trying to do our bit. A lot of us in our younger days were naughty boys and we’ve turned our lives around and we are now trying to give something back.
“The spirits are still high here.”
Neil Henderson, owner of the Glenaden Hotel and Barrel Lounge was on the bar serving pints, New Year drams and bowls of hot soup to patrons yesterday.
Two days earlier he had to get 10 tonnes of water pumped out of his cellar.
He said: “The amount of water that came through here was phenomenal. I’ve lived in the village for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.
“This is a tiny little place that thrives on community spirit. It’s unbelievable how people have just mucked in.”