‘Devastating’ Skewen floods will affect victims mentally and physically for ‘months to come’
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
A council leader has warned about the possible impact of the Skewen floods on the mental and physical wellbeing of its victims.
Neath Port Talbot (NPT) Council leader Rob Jones said those affected by the flooding, which occurred last week, will probably still feel affected by the events in the long-term.
“It is likely that residents will feel the impact of this incident for many months to come,” he said, “not just in terms of the physical impact on their properties but also in terms of the psychological impact that often accompanies such incidents.”
Around 80 residents were evacuated from their homes in the village of Skewen as water gushed down roads submerging vehicles on Thursday January 21.
While some of the flood victims have returned home, others will face a wait of up to six months before they can return safely to their properties.
Cllr Jones said: “That water is still coming out of that ground six days later.”
He said the incident was caused by “a blowout from a disused mine workings in the area caused by some form of blockage in the system underground that had been draining the mine water for many years”.
The Coal Authority, who owns the affected mines, is now investigating exactly what caused the incident. It is also working on stabilising the site in the short term and developing a solution for dealing with the mine water in the long-term.
Council workers have installed a temporary drainage system in Skewen and the council is working with the Coal Authority to figure out a way of re-routing the flow of the water so residents from Sunnyland Crescent can access their homes.
Cllr jones said: “Agencies are establishing processes to ensure that residents that have been affected by the flooding are safely returned to their properties but it is essential that electricity and gas supplies and services are checked before.
“We expect this to take place over the coming days.”
‘200 years old’
Plaid Cymru councillor Alun Llewelyn said: “We see again that we haven’t been able to escape the legacy and shadow of the coal era.”
“I know that from the effect of flooded coal levels in my own area and we’ve seen recent tip slides in Rhondda Cynon Taf and now during the last week this awful situation in Skewen,” the Ystalyfera representative added.
He said the Welsh and UK governments need to support local authorities “to respond to the huge challenges of the legacy of the coal era,” which are made worse by “the deterioration of underground infrastructures and climate change affecting bad weather”.
Cllr Jones said: “You’re right. Coaling is endemic right throughout the whole of South Wales.
“I’m led to believe that these particular mines may in fact be over 200 years old and of course, the older the mine workings, the less likely we’ve got accurate pictures in relation to their exact locations.
“What we have to remember here is the legacy that we’ve inherited under our ground that stems back to 1984 and then the John Major era when the closure of the National Coal Board led to the Coal Authority.
“This was all done before devolution and therefore the Coal Authority is the sole domain of the UK Government. I do know that the local constituency politicians have written to the minister responsible for that outlining the issues that we’ve currently got.”
Cllr Helen Ceri Clarke, who represents Coedffranc West, asked if there are arrangements in place which require the Coal Authority to update the council on how often it inspects its coal mines.
She asked if such measures could be arranged if they have not been already “to ensure surrounding areas are safer for residents”.
Cllr Jones said the Coal Authority responds directly to the UK Government but NPT Council has commissioned an inspection of all coal tips in the county borough, owned by both the council and private companies.
He added: “There is always accountability and at some point there will be a review of what happened here.”
Cllr Jones praised staff and members of the community who came together to help the flood victims.
He said two of the council’s senior managers who helped out by answering calls and emails did so while they were grieving over the loss of parents just a week before the flood occured.
“Although they were suffering pain themselves, they did not want to see our community in pain.
“The wider community of Neath Port Talbot’s been affected and we’ve all come together to make sure that this community gets back on its feet as soon as possible.
“I cannot praise our staff high enough in relation to the way that they not only reacted to this crisis, which is devastating members of this community.”
Residents have also raised £1,500 for the Salvation Army, who has been delivering food and clothing packages to the flood victims.
NPT Council has set up an online system to pay affected residents on behalf of the Welsh Government. Those with insurance will receive £500 while those without will be entitled to £1,000.
The council will also launch a council tax exemption scheme for all properties affected by the flooding.
An information centre has been set up at Abbey Primary School for residents and more agencies will be delivering support services this week.
Cllr Jones said: “As the initial shock wanes, people will become angry, people will want to blame someone. We will deal with our communities as best we can.
“This isn’t about blame, this isn’t about pointing fingers. This is about getting people back on their feet as quickly as we can and as safely as we can.
“It is apparent at this very early stage that costs will be significant. Early discussions will take place with Welsh and UK Govs to secure additional funding to meet the costs that will accrue from this incident for the council and for the residents themselves.
“Because of the remediation works needed at the site some of the residents will be affected for some time.”