No, I want an ark with a big room for poo.*

*Eddie Izzard – Noah’s Ark routine.

When I wrote about the changing weather conditions yesterday I had no idea what I’d unleashed!  I was aware of the gathering clouds overhead, and even shot a few (which served to remind me how badly my sensor needs cleaning!), but thought it to be no different to any other thunderstorm.  (Hard to tell, but these are colour images btw.)

Here in Whitburn, it didn’t even rain that much, and we live on a hill so why worry about the weather… except for the fact that my sister-in-law Dawn and her husband Roy were landing at Newcastle Airport and expecting me to be there to pick them up.

“Better leave early” I thought, “the roads all get a bit slow when things are wet.”  Master of the understatement as it turned out.  As I was leaving I heard that the A1, one of the three main routes between here and the airport was closed in one direction due to flooding.  Best switch on local radio to keep up to date in case it affects the other carriageway I thought… which is when the scale of this issue began to sink in.  Radio Newcastle had cancelled their usual broadcasting schedules to focus entirely on the disruption caused by flash flooding in the region. 

It wasn’t long after that that I encountered the first signs…  (Check out the wording of the poster on the right of the pair outside the church.  Rich!)

Testo’s roundabout is the point at which I would normally have to make a choice between the three cross Tyne routes.  I soon realised that the Tyne Tunnel was also out of the running.  It was closed in both directions, with stationary traffic tailing back the three and a half miles to the roundabout.  Remaining option – drive through Newcastle, with its undulating central motorway a likely receptacle for more flood water.  Joy.

I’d needn’t have worried myself – the next 7 miles were going to be more interesting that the centre of town as I soon found out…

I soon came to a standstill in heavy traffic, and as I crawled along had to contend with the challenges of communicating with Dawn and Roy, who were having problems with their mobile phone, my wife who was expecting to meet them later, and her parents.  Using mobiles, landlines, and even transatlantic facebook messages via Canada, we explored the option of finding hotel accommodation at the airport, but every room was booked.

No choice but to continue the crawl through the stinking waters.

Listening to the radio the stories of people pulling together in a crisis began to flood in (sorry), as did tales of the devastation caused by a relatively short spell of rain.  The same vehicles would creep by on the right for a few yards, before being passed again as my lane of traffic took its turn to inch forward.  My companions were the radio presenters, the anxious eyes of an Asian girl in the mirrors of the mini in front of me, and the pursed lips of the woman in the VW behind.

One of the worst affected areas was Heworth, a transport interchange where buses couldn’t get through the water and the trains were all cancelled.  Nevertheless people had made their way here, only to have to walk the remainder of their journeys home.  Cars were submerged in the car park, and the only way around some of the floods was to take a detour through the cemetery and then find a way to climb out over the walls.

Slightly further on and the damage being done to road surfaces began to emerge.  The cost of the clean up operations in homes, schools and businesses will be vast.

Power failures affected tens of thousands of homes, and in Felling the cars would frequently part (Red Sea-like?) to allow the passage of emergency vehicles, squeezing through on their way to evacuate people to safety from flooded residences using inflatable boats. 

All in all it took me 3.5 hours to reach the airport, a journey that should take about 45 minutes or so.  Remarkably I found a route back which included no hold ups whatsoever.  Bizarre.

Having dropped Dawn and Roy off, I returned home almost 5 hours after I had left, hearing on the radio the story of a young girl who, on her final day of work in Newcastle had been presented with a bunch of flowers that she had carried home all the way with her.  She had walked the miles from Heworth to Sunderland, climbed the cemetery wall, detoured through gardens and made it home at 22.45 with her flowers intact.  What a coincidence then that I should find myself sitting next to her in the hairdressers today!

Gabs is not my portrait though, for in one of those periods of total standstill I decided I should photograph one of those who were doing battle with me.  Anxious eyes or pursed lips?  I went for the lips and Karen agreed to be photographed.  Ironically the sun was now shining at its brightest and streaming through her windscreen created some harsh patterns of light on her face, but it did put some great catchlights in her eyes.  Thanks Karen.

Thankfully no evil giraffes about!