Thankfully I have been unaffected by the flooding (Xavier is still stuck in his home in Oxford) but I have been keeping tabs on the BBC website and I have been hearing all kinds of stories on the radio. Stories are also coming in from our own staff but none quite as epic as this one. Karen Joce, our station manager at Exeter Airport, recounts how she and a colleague became embroiled in the weather disaster that is currently affecting our country…
“Nicky and myself both volunteered our services to Jenny at Birmingham Airport, so that she could go off and happily get married and have her team with her to help celebrate. Nicky and I both live in Plymouth, one could argue the furthest point away within Region 2 to help cover, but nonetheless, we were not phased by the epic journey to man the desk for 5 hours.
We set off in plenty of time leaving Plymouth 12.30 on Friday 20th July, this day I’m sure will go down in history. We went via Exeter just to make sure both teams we were leaving behind were all OK. At this point no problem. We merrily chatted away about the business (of course) and then gossiped about everyone (as you do) and then settled down into what appeared to be an ok trip.
How wrong could we be!! It started to rain just as we passed Bristol, nothing too bad – wipers went on and we carried on. The motorway matrix signs started to flash 40, mmmm we thought, we carried on at a crawl. At junc 12 we came to a standstill, the rain was heavier, the phones calls started to be made. It was 16.10, we knew we would not make Birmingham Airport by 17.00. We contacted regional office and Birmingham Airport starting to advise them of our predicament. At 1740 we had traveled less than a mile and at this point we realized with the best will in the world we would not make Birmingham Airport. We notified Marcus and proceeded to come off at Junction 9 to turn around and come back home, feeling miserable at failing our mission to help out the guys at Birmingham Airport.
We spotted the sign, 1 mile to junction 9 Tewkesbury at 1745, at this time we were acutely aware of the southbound carriageway now grinding to a halt, our misery deepen at the prospect of turning around only to find ourselves sat in another jam the other way (it’s not as if the scenery would have been any different!!) I grabbed the map and came up with a plan of action to take us away from what was now a huge Car Park.
Right, I said, we’ll come off, turn left then left again down the A38 towards Gloucester, onto M5 J11a and then we’ll be on our way again. Wrong!! We passed houses that had the flood water up to their front doors, cars at this point were being abandoned on the roadside, traffic on the otherside heading towards the motorway was not moving, we still had belief in our plan B and kept going. As we headed down the A38, other motorists were shouting ‘Turnaround, you’ll never get through.’ Seeing is believing and we carried on until we saw for ourselves there was no way out. The A38 and A419 had been closed so we quickly turned around and headed back the way we came, only to find to our dismay the road to take us back to Junc9 was now also closed. We were well and truly stuck and it was now 22.50. What were we to do?
We parked up on a grass verge, one of many cars settling down for the night, local radio kept us advised of the closures and how thousands of cars are trapped on the M5 due to it also being closed. In some ways we felt lucky, we had managed to find a garage where we were able to stock up on supplies in readiness for the long night.
Marcus kept in touch, we were advising him of the conditions so he could let customers know not to head this way. Poor Marcus ended up do a double shift from 16.00 through ’til 07.00 because Craig who was coming in to takeover from us could not make it in either.
At 23.30, we covered ourselves with anything we found in the boot, luckily I got the picnic blanket, turned off the lights and settled down, if only!! Helicopters were flying all night rescuing people from their homes just a few miles from where we were. Fire, ambulance and police all charging up and down the road blue lights flashing, it resembled a scene from ‘Casualty’ not a very restful night.
At 01.45, the last update from the radio informed all stranded motorists to settle down for the night and wait for morning in the hope that the flood water would have subsided, provided it stops raining!!! At 04.55, light was appearing over the horizon. We both sat in a daze, clearly we could see the road back to the motorway had not been opened. Do we continue to wait or now that we could see where we were going, do we try to find a route through? We headed back down the A38, passing many motorists still snoozing and turned onto the A419, only to see casualties of the night before. Cars stuck in flood water, one vehicle upside down in a ditch and motorists still stranded looking around in utter amazement.
We forged a plan to head away from the area whilst still keeping in a southward direction. We went through Cheltenham OK and headed onto the A417 towards M5 junc 11a. We finally at 06.20 got back onto the M5 southbound and the road was clear. Excitement and relief came together as we laughed wondering what the hell we had just been through. Misery was still apparent on the M5 north as it was still closed. We felt nothing but pity for those still stuck.
We refreshed at Michaelwood services in readiness for our quick jaunt back down the M5 homeward bound to home and bed. Finally, we were back at Avis Plymouth at 08.10, with a realization of achieving nothing and yet experiencing so much!”