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Carlisle floods fail to dampen staff spirit

Teachers rally round as storms close a third of Cumbria's schools. Sue Whitehead and Joseph Lee report

Almost a third of Cumbria's schools had to be closed this week as severe storms brought a month's rainfall in just 36 hours, causing flooding, power cuts and damage to buildings.

The floods were the worst in the area for 182 years and shut down 100 of the county's 350 primaries and secondaries.

Seven schools were expected to remain closed into next week and the worst-hit, Newman Roman Catholic school, in Carlisle, will not reopen for months.

Norman Street primary was closed to pupils as it was used as an emergency base for people evacuated from their flooded homes in the worst-hit area of Carlisle. Judith Baskerville, headteacher, said the school had to reassure children who were worried by the floods after seeing the Asian tsunami on the news. Some were afraid that friends had been killed because they did not see them on the streets, when in fact they had been sent to stay with relatives.

Pupils in the county who were due to take exam modules or A-level re-sits were moved to other schools. By Wednesday, nearly 80 of the schools had reopened.

Flood waters rose to four feet in Newman covering computers and wiping out the school's database and curriculum network. The school hall's parquet flooring, laid in 1968, was also ruined.

Fears over health and safety prevented staff and pupils from going onto the school site and an emergency staff meeting was held in a church hall.

Telephones were manned by two administrative staff sitting in their cars, using a phone line that had been extended from the school building.

John O'Neill, head of Newman, said: "The ground floor has been devastated and teachers have lost a lifetime of work.

"My staff have shown great spirit though and were soon asking how we move forward from this. They were also very touched by parents and students turning up to help with the clear-up.

"We certainly intend to have classes running in temporary accommodation in neighbouring schools by Monday.

"I think a lot of people are setting this in the context of what happened in Asia on Boxing Day. Material things can be replaced and there were no injuries. That is the important thing."

Cumbria county council is sending welfare teams into schools to deal with the emotional needs of pupils affected by the floods.

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