(Title Image: Wales Online)
Storm Callum caused chaos at the end of last week, and today was the first opportunity for AMs to discuss the impact and what happens next with Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn).
AMs from all parties expressed condolences to the friends and family of Corey Sharpling, who was killed by a landslide at Cwmduad in Carmarthenshire and was the only Welsh fatality directly attributable to the storm.
After expressing gratitude to the emergency services, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities, the Minister set out the facts and figures:
- Up to 160mm of rain was recorded in a 24 hour period – more than the monthly average for October – with 40 flood warnings issued by Natural Resources Wales.
- Current estimates suggest 218 properties were flooded, of which 195 were homes, in 9 local authorities.
- There was a significant impact on the rail network and part of the Heart of Wales line near Llandeilo was washed away, meaning a partial closure “for a number of days”.
- 38,000 households experienced power problems but all were restored within 24 hours.
- An unquantified number of animals were lost despite rescue efforts.
Following on from a row during this week’s First Minister’s Questions, the Minister said the Welsh Government are committed to spending £350million of flood defences during the Fifth Assembly.
A response “as wet as the storm”
Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) paid tribute to two Carmarthenshire Council workers who tried to save Corey Sharpling:
“….when the landslide came down with gallons and gallons of water, it swept the lorry off the road, over the bank and into the river, because it’s a river road that goes through Cwmduad. The lorry went in head first, the driver was under water, and those two Carmarthenshire Council workers leapt into that boiling inferno, smashed the windows and grabbed him out.”
– Angela Burns AM
She went on to describe the efforts of Carmarthenshire Council as “amazing”, particularly their fast establishment of a £300,000 fund and other forms of assistance to affected households and businesses; efforts which make the Welsh Government “look as wet as the storm”.
The Minister said the Welsh Government were waiting for all information to come in as to what work is required before making any commitments in terms of emergency funding – but that assistance would be forthcoming.
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) called for more co-ordinated action:
“Does (the Minister) agree that it’s time for the Welsh Government to develop a climate change adaptation plan to ensure we’re fully prepared and our communities are adequately protected?”
– Helen Mary Jones AM
Helen mentioned that a number of bridges across the Teifi were closed and this hampered emergency services trying to get to Glangwilli Hospital; wasn’t it time for infrastructure to be properly adapted to deal with situations like these?
The Minister broadly agreed:
“In terms of looking at a review of our priorities, after any event like this, when our capability and our resilience have been tested, it is only right and proper, that we look at what’s worked and also look at what hasn’t worked and see the things that do need to be changed in future.”
– Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn
UKIP’s Michelle Brown asked about the support the Welsh Government would provide farmers who’ve lost livestock. The Minister said farmers and landowners would be involved in developing a new natural flood defence strategy.
Vikki Howells AM’s (Lab, Cynon Valley) constituency was particularly hard hit. Re-forestation of upland areas is said to be one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to prevent flooding, yet following an outbreak of ash dieback and larch disease, many forested areas in her area haven’t been replanted.
The Minister said reforestation will form part of the natural flood defence strategy, alongside flood storage areas, woody debris and “leaky dams”.
Again previewing what will come later in FMQs, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) brought up funding for flood defences and whether the £350million was new money or would have to be found from existing budgets? The Minister confirmed, in effect, that the £350million was a set budget and additional funding might be made available in relation to Storm Callum.