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How Storm Dennis broke Welsh records... but couldn't break the Welsh spirit

Emergency service worker high-fives a child being rescued from the flooding in Treforest Credit: Huw Evans Images

In 2015, the Met Office decided to start naming storms in Britain.

And since then, there have been dozens, all causing damage and disruption to different parts of the UK.

But this week, we in the south Wales Valleys have witnessed the worst storm in living memory. And Storm Dennis will live long in the memory.

I live at the top of Merthyr Tydfil, on the boundary with the Brecon Beacons National Park. Our National Correspondent Rob Osborne lives at the top of the Rhondda Valley. And on Saturday night, neither of us could sleep. We lay awake listening to the relentless rainfall hammering on our bedroom windows. We were aware of the amber weather warnings, but this was truly biblical. And we were both thinking the same thing - how on earth can this continue without devastating flooding in lower lying areas?

Now in this day and age, social media is often the way that people communicate a developing story, and we both spent hours watching the horror of Storm Dennis unfold. People were posting videos of flooding like we've never seen before. I saw one of the River Taff in Merthyr town centre licking the pavement in the college car park. Another couple of inches and it would have seen the first flooding in my lifetime. The Taff was widened before I was born, and there had never been flooding there since.

So all that begged a question: if this is the situation here, what on earth are they dealing with in communities like Pentrebach, Troedyrhiw, Quakers Yard, Pontypridd, Nantgarw and of course Taff's Well? Well, we got our dreadful answer. The Taff reached its highest level on record - a record that had stood for well over 40 years. The emergency services and local authorities were rescuing people from life-threatening situations. They had tripled the number of staff on call, but still they were having more callouts than they could cope with. This was flooding on an unprecedented scale.

An ambulance submerged in floodwaters after Storm Dennis Credit: Wales News Service
A person is winched to safety from deep floodwater in Crickhowell Credit: Maritime & Coastguard Agency

First light on Sunday morning revealed the true picture, and it was beyond bleak. The Met Office had updated our weather warning to a red one. I stand to be corrected, but I don't think we've ever had a red warning for heavy rain in Wales before, only for heavy snow and blizzards. This was serious. I mobilised our news crews from very early, and when I saw the level of flooding on Taff Street in Pontypridd, I had to stop for a moment to take it in. Local people were telling myself and Rob Osborne that they hadn't seen anything like this since the 1960s. Businesses were underwater, and some shopkeepers estimated to have lost three or four hundred thousand pounds worth of stock alone.

Pontypridd town centre on Sunday morning Credit: ITV Cymru Wales / Rob Osborne

But even getting to the worst affected areas was difficult. Every one of our main roads was blocked by flooding or a landslide. In Crickhowell, the Usk was another river to reach record levels. Flooding there on Sunday morning saw the water rise from the ground to six feet up in just eight minutes. One man was rescued from a caravan park by coastguard helicopter, and the firefighters who had called for assistance to help him were also running for their lives. They described the scene to me as "apocalyptic".

A helicopter carries out an emergency rescue over Crickhowell Credit: Mark Drakeford AM / Twitter

But with stories of perilous situations, and hellish chaos, came stories of bravery and tireless efforts to bring people to safety. Those who found themselves trapped upstairs in their homes were not just being rescued by our emergency services, but also by neighbours and complete strangers, all fearless and full of courage. Our rescue workers and frontline staff worked for 48 hours or more without sleep. Local councillors were helping to co-ordinate recovery plans from special command centres they had set up, and others were even helping to physically rescue people surrounded by floodwater in their own wards. No matter what your politics, this was a time for humanity only.

Emergency services rescue residents in Treforest Credit: Huw Evans Images
One-year-old Blake and his mum, Terri, join other residents of Nantgarw in a rescue boat Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

People talk of the Valleys as having 'close-knit' and 'tight communities'. Well boy, did they show it this week. Donation centres have been inundated with clothes, cleaning products and refreshments for the flood victims and those involved in the salvage operations. Some people have lost everything. But they haven't lost the compassion and care of those around them. And that brings me onto the main reason why I wanted to reflect on this past week - how proud I am of these special communities that I call home. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. The Valleys have a unique sense of togetherness and unity, the like of which you don't see everywhere.

Sisters embrace after discovering the extent of the damage caused by Storm Dennis in Nantgarw Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images
Residents give a thumbs up to the camera in Mountain Ash as they work to clear up the damage caused by Storm Dennis Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

Tragically, the aftermath of Storm Dennis is likely to be felt by so many people for so many years to come. It's not something that'll go away soon. Even as I'm writing this, I'm keeping a close eye on Monday's weather forecast and the prospect of yet more wet weather. The turmoil is far from over.

But, for me, one thing stands out. And it's this. Storm Dennis broke Welsh records. There's no doubt about that. And it's broken hundreds of Welsh hearts. But it definitely hasn't broken our gritty Welsh spirit.