On February 16, people across the country woke up to the aftermath of Storm Dennis. It was one of three such storms which hit Wales that month, making it the wettest February on record.
Sat right on the River Taff, Pontypridd and the surrounding area bore a huge brunt of the devastation which hit the country that day.
“My husband, Kim, woke me up at 3am to tell me to move my car,” said Sam Davies, from Treforest.
“I was in my pyjamas and had my boots and a thin rain coat on. I started shouting to our neighbours, banging their doors and shouting, ‘Get up! Emergency! We are flooding! The street is flooding! Wake up!’”
Sam’s experience is one of many from across Wales just like it.
Just three months have passed since the devastation. In the 97 days since, the country has been hit by yet another life-changing event – the coronavirus pandemic.
How has the community dealt with the aftermath of one crisis, while simultaneously being gripped by another?
“Obviously it’s been really, really challenging, considering we were hit by the flooding”, Labour MP for Pontypridd Alex Davies-Jones said.
“Then, we were just starting to get businesses to get ready to re-open, people were getting ready to move back into their homes, and coronavirus hit.”
The town has to deal with this crisis while only just starting to come to terms with the last, and the damage caused by the flood waters isn’t only physical – it is psychological, too.
“I am suffering from anxiety,” said Mark Payne, from Pontypridd.
Recalling his memories of the flooding, Mark said: “I was woken by a neighbour around 2.30am, who told me the water was already in my house. I rushed down to the basement and it was in 5ft of water and silt.
“The first thought was the dog. I went into the water for her but it was too late. I was devastated. There was nothing we could do.”
Sam Davies also recalled her memories of that night in February with vivid detail.
“I ran round to my 84-year-old mum-in-law’s street through the lane. I got four houses down and realised I was up to my waist in water,” she said.
Sam’s mother-in-law, Carole Davies, was rescued by firefighters who made their way to her via boat, lifting her and her dog to safety.
Speaking about what Carole lost, Sam said: “Everything from her life was downstairs. Photos… her furniture that was a wedding present from her parents – a real Welsh dresser and bureau, irreplaceable jewellery.”
Three months on, at Mark Payne’s house, he and his family are now living in the upper floor, consigned to using the bathroom as a kitchen.
Life can’t return to normal until builders are able to carry out essential work on the rest of the house. With the coronavirus lockdown in full force, it isn’t clear when that will be.
“There are good days and bad days. I’m not sleeping too good,” said Mark.
He is now on medication and waiting to see if it makes a difference but his current living situation, in addition to the ongoing stress caused by the pandemic, is taking its toll.
“I’m struggling to cope. I will be grateful to get back to normal,” he said.
For Carole Davies, who is now living with Sam and her husband, the coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated the sense of grief after the flooding.
“We face each day together and help her through but the isolation has begun to affect her,” said Sam.
Usually, Sam would spend time with her grandchildren several times a week, with Carole joining in, for shopping trips and play dates. But that has all had to stop now due to the pandemic.
“It’s been so hard not being allowed to have them as we have had to shield mum as much as possible,” said Sam.
The uncertainty surrounding the issue of when life will return to normal is felt throughout the community.
For many businesses, it means the sense of upheaval caused by the flood damage has been prolonged indefinitely.
“The long term looks challenging, and in the short term we’re just trying to do what we can,” said Phil Thomas, who owns Bragdy Twt Lol, a brewery in Treforest that is well loved in the local area.
“It’s quite possible we’ll all just have to shut down and maybe never come back. It is that serious.
“I’ve got rent to pay, I’ve got all the overheads to pay, I’ve got a van, all the electricity, water… I can’t do that if I’m only getting 40% of the revenue I once was.”
The brewery suffered badly as a result of Storm Dennis. Phil woke up to find the footage on his security camera, and the extent of the damage caused him to think there had been a break-in.
“I thought, initially, maybe it was around £10,000 of damage. It’s gone well into £20,000 to £30,000,” said Phil.
In Taffs Well, local business South Wales Windows was also hit hard by Storm Dennis, when its new office and showroom was flooded.
Catrin Tollerfield, director of the company, said: “We worked hard to re-open a week later, but then in March lockdown came into play. We are still closed and not planning on opening until June 1.”
How a community rallied together during Storm Dennis floods:
It has been a difficult start to the year for the company, Catrin explained. However, there was a tone of optimism in her words.
“Onwards and upwards. July will be our 30th year of trading so I think we’re due a nice celebration,” she said.
Another nearby business, Little Friends play group, also has its eye cautiously on the future.
“We have rebuilt strong and are extremely grateful to everyone who has donated resources, furniture and time to help us get back up and running so soon,” said Alison Jones, who runs the play group in Taffs Well.
Three months later, Bragdy Twt Lol has also just bottled its first batch of “post-flood beer”. But business has changed irrevocably for the brewery, which is unable to do trade with pubs due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Timelapse of flooding in the brewery:
“The trouble is, 80% of our business is kegs to pubs,” said Phil.
The 20% taken by their shop and online sales has now risen to around 30-40%, he explains, but it may not be enough to keep the business going in the long-term.
“Selling to supermarkets will never be profitable in the long term. So it all depends on when the pubs open back up again, really, and when they do, what capacity they’re looking at.
“The long term looks challenging, and in the short term we’re just trying to do what we can.”
The short term measures taken by Bragdy Twt Lol include diversifying its stock, doing takeaway cask sales, and extending the opening hours of its shop.
“In some respects, both events have forced us to review the way that we operate,” he said.
“What happens in the future, whether people change their habits in the future, or whether things go back to the way they were before, I suspect it will change things substantially, to be honest.”
“I think people want to support local. It’s been growing, but now people have realised how critical it is.”
As of now, the future remains uncertain – people can’t make plans for definite about when, or if, life will go back to the way it was before the flood.
With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the future is still uncertain for many.
However, there is at least a glimmer of hope.