THE next step in the major operation to remove thousands of sandbags from Romsey is under way.

Environment teams have launched the second phase of a huge programme to clear a man-made barrier installed by the military around Romsey at the height of February’s floods.

A 100-strong team of staff from Test Valley Borough Council began moving 14,000 bags from Rivermead Close in the first area to be targeted.

The week-long project follows an earlier scheme to begin clearing up 80,000 sandbags distributed across Test Valley by the army and navy to stop the River Test from flooding and saving hundreds of homes.

As previously reported by the Daily Echo, people living in Budds Lane were evacuated from their homes while Greatbridge Road was closed.

An army of workers was drafted in from other departments for the clear-up with the Environment Agency and Hampshire Highways.

They chanted and sang while forming human chains to lift the heavily-sodden bags from the waterside to waiting diggers and tipper trucks.

Many of the hessian sacks had rotted in the stagnant water, so workers swept remains into wheelbarrows.

Residents looked on with a mixture of gratitude and relief that their homes were safe and the picturesque waterway could return to its former beauty.

Rolling up his sleeves was Test Valley Council environmental services head Paul Wykes, who said: “What was an emergency operation is now a recovery operation.

“It’s been like a military operation, and all hands are to the pumps.

“We have drafted people in from other council departments and there is a real team spirit among the staff.”

Pensioner Jane Rogers, from Rivermead Close, who nervously watched water approaching her home before the barrier was installed, said: “The bags have been essential in keeping us safe “It’s been an amazing achievement, but it is nice to see the back of them so we can have our nice views back.”

Neighbour Anthony Childs, 89, whose garden was flooded, said: “I am impressed to see how many people have got involved to protect the area.

“Now it’s all been cleared away hopefully we can have a quiet summer.”

Rivermead Close Residents Association chairman Stephen Beasley said: “The response by all the emergency services has been fantastic – they have been a tribute to the country.

“We were surrounded by water at the beginning of the floods but the council responded quickly.”

The remains will be decontaminated by Hampshire County Council before being re-used in the building trade or for next year’s sandbags.

Residents can store uncontaminated bags for future use or dig the sand into the soil.

The third stage will be undertaken by the Environment Agency and includes removing the ‘cat flap’ structure at the head of the Fishlake Meadows stream and repairing branches on the barge canal bank.