People living on the Somerset Levels started returning to their homes yesterday – and were confronted with distressing scenes.
Homeowners found their gardens strewn with debris, fallen trees, collapsed walls and the foul stench of effluent and fuel filling the air.
Inside their homes, furniture had been upturned and left rotting after nine weeks under water. Meanwhile, a waist-high dirty water mark on walls, doors and cars serves as a reminder of the peak flood levels.
It is thought more than 150 homes will need to be refurbished – a task that can only begin once cleared by insurers. Tonnes of mud and debris has also been left behind by the water, which will all need to be cleared by hand. Yesterday an army of volunteers descended on the worst-hit villages to help with the clean-up.
The drop in the water levels means residents in both Moorland and Fordgate, near Bridgwater, are able to begin returning to their homes. One house remains under water but others are able to start the huge operation to return to normal life.
Moorland resident Keith Eskins, 60, reckons it will take a year before he can return to his property.
The plant hire worker said: "We've had the insurance company in to asses the damage and now we've been given the all clear to start clearing up. There is an electrician here at the moment assessing what needs to be replaced. I'm just trying to clear up anything that can be salvaged really before the insurers come in and throw everything else away.
"It's a massive task and I think it is going to be at least a year before I'm back in the house again – the problem is, everything is contaminated.
"I'm in a bungalow, which made the whole thing much harder. It means I've lost everything because I couldn't even put special things or furniture upstairs.
"There are a lot of volunteers descending, which is great. At the moment people are just trying to come to terms with everything, though, and saving what they can. The community spirit really has been unreal – everyone has really pulled together."
The volunteers are being co-ordinated by Somerset County Council and Sedgemoor District Council, which has received offers of help from more than 500 people. Many of the volunteers, who filled in an online form, have specialist skills such as plastering, flooring and gas and electricity expertise. Others have simply offered their services making tea, coffee and food for those working all day to help.
Gamekeeper Tim Holmes, 21, has built a number of paths across the village to save residents battling flooded lanes.
Along with a team of other volunteers he has helped rescue a number of belongings – including cars – using a floating pontoon.
He said: "We've got to wait for the insurers to give the all-clear for volunteers to help. Then we can start helping remove the damaged property and also help clear up the gardens and property of contaminated waste."
After months of heavy downpours, forecasters have some better news for flood victims. They say this weekend's warm weather looks set to signal a new start for the West Country. But although they are confident that the next week will be balmy compared to the weather of late, they cannot rule out a new front bringing back the wind and rain over the coming months.
A high pressure front is expected to push daytime temperatures into double figures on Saturday and Sunday and then hang around for at least another week. The Met Office says not to expect non-stop sunshine, but it will be warm and dry for an extended period.
It's good news for the Somerset Levels, where residents have been waiting for the rain to stop and for the water to start receding before cleaning up. Met Office spokesman Laura Young says this weekend the mercury is predicted to soar well above average for this time of year and reach up to 17C.
She said: "It has been more settled over the last week or so and we have definitely seen an end to that particular period of exceptional weather. The jet stream and everything else has moved and we expect it to stay calm and settled into the middle of next week at least.
"The jet stream and the levels of pressure in the atmosphere suggest there will be no extreme events over the next five to ten days, but it's too soon to say if this is the end of this year's bad weather for good. Remember, 2012 was the wettest summer in history. We could still get a new period of unsettled weather moving in at a later date."
As well as villagers and farmers on the Levels, the South West tourism industry is hoping for a prolonged period of dry weather to make up some of their recent losses.
The 30-day forecast for the region suggests fairly typical weather for the time of year will continue to the beginning of April.