Thursday 21 September 2017

Flooding 'not set to peak until Sunday' and threat will remain next week - national emergency meeting

* Water levels continue to rise
* Yellow rainfall warning in place until midnight
* 20-35 mm of additional rain expected today
* Defence Forces troops deployed in flood-hit counties of Clare, Limerick, Galway, and Westmeath
* Government pledges €15m in aid
* Sligo train line from Carrick-on-Shannon to Longford will remain closed until the weekend
* Wicklow County Council launches Text Alert system
* Flood threat high for next week
* Aerial footage shows damage

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Residents of high-risk flooding areas have been told to expect the worst flooding in 20 years.

Jim Casey, the OPW’s head of Hydrology and Coastal Section, said the threat of floods remains “severe”.

The National Emergency Coordination Centre has said there is a "high risk" of flooding from the Athlone region all the way along the Shannon to Limerick.

Westmeath County Council is bracing itself to rehome who are expected to be left homeless.

Photo: Irish Defence Forces
Photo: Irish Defence Forces
Photo: Irish Defence Forces
Photo: Irish Defence Forces
Air Corps handout photo of the River Shannon flowing through Athlone after Storm Desmond hit the area over the weekend. Photo: Airman Jamie Martin/Air Corps/PA Wire
Air Corps handout photo of the River Shannon flowing through Athlone after Storm Desmond hit the area over the weekend. Photo: Airman Jamie Martin/Air Corps/PA Wire
Richard Hazell, makes his way home through a flood near Cootehall, Co. Roscommon Photo Brian Farrell
Traffic was permitted only in one direction on the the N4 at Carrick on Shannon
Credit: Mary Patterson/ Twitter
Houses under threat in Leitrim Village
Flooding near Montpellier, Co Limerick.
Richard Hazell makes his way home through a flood near Cootehall, Co Roscommon. Photo: Brian Farrell

Less than a dozen homes in the Friary Lane area of Athlone were at severe risk of flooding late tonight after the river breached its banks along one small section of the waterway.

Up to 100 homes are expected to be flooded in the next few days as heavy rain has begun to pour down in Athlone, Donegal, Clare and Kerry.

Met Eireann shows how rain is arriving in from the west (Photo: Met Eireann)
Met Eireann shows how rain is arriving in from the west (Photo: Met Eireann)

“It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ at this stage,” said Councillor Tom Farrell, Mayor of Athlone.

“We know there is going to be houses flooded whether we like it or not as the heavy rain is going to make the river rise tonight.

“I know it wouldn’t matter much to those affected but everything is ready now for when the worst happens.

“We’ve got emergency accommodation ready to go for those who will need it.”

Speaking from the city centre, Cllr Farrell said it was “absolutely lashing” in Athlone tonight and that the worry was now by how much the Shannon River would rise over the next 24 hours.

Praising the efforts of the Defence forces, Gardaí and local volunteers, he said that nothing more could have been done to prepare the area for the rising flood waters.

Floods in Caherlea,Claregalway Credit: Twitter/Leanne Traynor
Floods in Caherlea,Claregalway Credit: Twitter/Leanne Traynor
Floods in Caherlea,Claregalway Credit: Twitter/Leanne Traynor
Floods in Caherlea,Claregalway Credit: Twitter/Leanne Traynor
Floods in Caherlea,Claregalway Credit: Twitter/Leanne Traynor
Houses under threat in Leitrim Village

“Everyone here has put their shoulders to the wheel to do what they can to help… [but] the river rose by about half a metre today and with the amount of raining that is falling , she is going to rise even more.

“By how much? That’s the thing, we just don’t know.”

A status yellow rainfall warning is in place for Connacht, Donegal, Clare and Kerry until midnight, as an additional 20-35 mm of rain is expected. This amounts to nearly a third of what is normally recorded for the whole of December

The OPW has said that flooding along the River Shannon is not set to peak until Sunday and Monday. Even after that, the threat of more floods remains high as forecasters are predicating above average rainfall next week.

All gauges on the river have indicated that between 6am yesterday and 9am today the water level is rising, with the largest rise in the Athlone area.

Irish Red Cross National Director of Units Tony Lawlor said there were “a lot of scared people tonight” across the country waiting to see if their homes will be ruined by the flood waters.

“There‘s a big emotional trauma when people are affected or even threatened with the thought of flooding.

Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
Richard Hazell makes his way home through a flood near Cootehall, Co Roscommon. Photo: Brian Farrell
Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
Flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon Credit: Jimmy Stafford
A car falls foul of the floods at Inver Gael Apartments in Carrick on Shannon

“The damage it causes is a very intrusive thing as it tends to be personal belongings that are lost.

“The fear is very close to the surface when you talk to people in at-risk areas tonight.”

Mr Lawlor told Independent.ie that the flooding was among the worst he had seen in the last 20 years.

“The engagement with the statutory services is as intense as I’ve ever seen it, and we're getting reports that the statistics show this could be the worst we’ve had in 20, maybe even 50 years.” 

Mr Lawlor added that units of the Irish Red Cross were on standby in several areas in the west of Ireland, and that teams from unaffected areas were gearing up to come in and help if conditions worsen.

“We’ve units deployed in the villages of Castleconnell and Montpelier in Limerick, Clonlara in County Clare, and up in Athlone we’ve asked groups from the surrounding area to be prepared to come in if things go bad over the next few days.”

Sean Hogan, chair of the National Coordination Group which works with the relevant authorities during adverse weather, said Shannon-side residents should be on alert.

"It's filling and continuing to rise and may not peak until later in the week, so obviously people in that area who are in vulnerable areas by the Shannon still remain at risk of flooding," he said.

"The message is to keep in touch."

An overflow of the Shannon river was reported to have occurred in Athlone this evening, but was not deemed to be a serious breach, and the army was sent back to the barracks for the night.

Met Eireann's Evelyn Cusack said there is a likelihood of heavy rain “all of next week”, which will deepen the crisis for many homes.

“There is a risk of very wet and windy spells,” she said at a press briefing this afternoon.

In Limerick last night, seven pumps were in operation shifting water away from the villages of Castleconnell and Montpelier while an inflatable flood boom, which acts like movable defence wall, was being used in Castleconnell to channel the floods.

The ESB also took steps to reduce pressure on the swollen Shannon system by increasing the rate of flow at the Parteen weir to 375,000 litres a second, up from the normal 40,000 litres a second at this time of year.

Members of the Defence Forces were deployed in Clare, Limerick, Galway, and Westmeath to help local authorities with flood defence efforts.

Troops and military vehicles have been deployed at Clonlara in Co Clare following a dramatic rise in water levels downstream of Parteen Weir on the River Shannon. Troops and vehicles have also been deployed at Castleconnell in Co Limerick, Ballinasloe, Athleague, Corofin, Craughwell and Athlone.

Some properties in the Springfield area of Clonlara have been flooded, with troops are helping with sandbagging in an effort to stop the floods.

It also increased flows through Inniscarra dam on the Lee in Cork.

It is understood that the Defence Forces have already used their air capacity to assess the extent of the floods and take aerial footage.

Footage

Aerial footage from the Irish Air Corps taken over the Shannon catchment area shows the extent of the steady build up of flood waters in the wake of Storm Desmond.

Thousands of acres of farmland and several homes have been submerged in water.

From the Athlone area to Limerick city, the entire catchment is on high alert with waters expected to rise half a metre in total at some point in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Troops and vehicles are on stand-by in barracks in Donegal, Galway, Limerick and Cork.

In Co Fermanagh, where 20 roads have been closed due to flooding, residents have been warned that more flooding is possible.

“Water levels at Upper Lough Erne have stopped rising, at present, and remains approximately 200mm below the levels we saw in 2009," Rivers Agency Chief Executive David Porter said.

"However, the Met Office has advised us that another period of heavy rain is likely on Wednesday and this may cause levels to rise."

"Twenty roads are already closed due to the flooding."

“Rivers Agency and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) in the south are responsible for controlling the Lough levels and we are working closely to ensure everything can be done to reduce the levels and therefore the impact of any flooding,” he added.

Fresh drinking water distribution points have also been set up in many areas by the Red Cross in Athlone, Portumna and Montpelier.

Forecast

Thousands of acres of farmland are under water with the Government putting a €5m emergency response fund available to those worst affected.

Iarnrod Eireann said the Sligo train line from Carrick-on-Shannon to Longford will remain closed until the weekend at the earliest due to flooding with the water about a foot over the track.

Commuters were plagued by delays this morning as the rail service reported "reduced capacity" on early morning trains from Sligo to Dublin and from Longford to Dublin.

In Co Galway dozens of stretches of road have been closed.

Bus transfers are also in operation between Ennis and Galway due to flooding on the track line between Gort and Athenry.

'Unstoppable'

More than 2,000 sandbags have been distributed by Limerick City and County Council to areas at most risk including Castleconnel, Montpelier and the Mountshannon Road in Lisnagry.

Athlone businessman Kieran Hynes told Newstalk Radio the floods will be unstoppable if they reach 2009 levels.

“Sandbags in the situation are not effective. The water is constant against the walls. It just seeps through. The water will be unstoppable if it reaches 2009 levels.  The sandbags won’t provide a defence against it.

“Our building is an old building, it just seeps up through the floors, seeps in through the walls, seeps in everywhere. The water is going back up through the sewage system.”

Manager of the Westmeath Volunteer Centre Ian O'Flynn said locals are 'frustrated' that a report has not been completed which would help flood prevention.

“On the Connacht side there is a very low plain just after the Shannon where the water slows down, where it’s hitting Lough Derg which is lower again, which slows down the water," he told Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show.

"The houses being affected here have been there a long, long time. They’re the older houses.

"[The people being flooded] are more frustrated since six years ago the report completely isn’t finished yet.

"The government can’t put huge resources into flood prevention unless a proper report is completed.

"Their frustration is that it is taking so long for this report to be completed.

"Their hands are tied until this report comes through," he continued.

"The budget of a local authority would not suffice in dealing with flood measures such as this - it has to be a national plan.

"A lot of people living in the area know that this [the flooding] is going to happen and they are just frustrated.

"We’re more ready than we were the last time."

Efforts

Killaloe District Engineer Mr Hugh McGrath told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland that the army had to be called when the water suddenly surged yesterday.

"We decided to call in the army because water levels were steadily rising until the afternoon and we had local volunteers out working with Clare County Council, we thought we had enough resources as the water levels rose," Mr McGrath said.

"Then at about 3.30pm [yesterday] there was a sudden surge for three or four hours.

"At ten o'clock we felt we had to call in the extra resources.

"In fairness to the residents, we had to step up and get more bodies in to make sure there was every chance we could protect their homes," he continued.

"From listening to all the various sources looking at this data, we're preparing for higher levels. I'm not in a position to speak, but given the information from the various different bodies, I don't think we've seen the peak yet."

Read more: 'I feel like I'm in a bad dream and hopefully I will wake up tomorrow' - widow of man swept away by flood water

The ESB warned water levels along the River Shannon continued to rise last night with the flooding of roads, land and property in the vicinity, downstream of Parteen Weir, "highly likely".

A spokesman for Limerick city and county council said: "The likelihood is that [the rate of flow at Parteen Weir] will increase tomorrow when it could exceed 400,000 litres per second. This is not a very common occurrence; it would have exceeded that in 2009. It happens once every couple of years," explained Vincent Murray, Senior Engineer, Limerick City and County Council.

"The rain that fell in Leitrim and up that end of the country is only coming down to us now so we are getting the brunt of that here and it is raining on top of that.

"The next two to three days is therefore crucial as this water will spill into the Shannon, come down Lough Derg over Parteen Weir and into Limerick," he added.

The IFA warned thousands of acres of farmland are under flood waters in Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim, Roscommon, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Kerry.

Roads

Motorists are being warned of the dangers of driving through floodwater.

In Armagh, five people have been rescued from their vehicles that became stuck in flood water on the Armagh Road.

Emergency services were called shortly after 2.30pm yesterday. None of the people needed medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the Government has promised homes and businesses affected by Storm Desmond flooding €15m in humanitarian help.

Read more: Government's €15m flood victims' fund to be 'straightforward and unbureaucratic'

Two separate multi-million euro funds have been opened up to those who have been affected by the extreme weather conditions since the weekend.

In an unprecedented move, the Government will fast-track the funding to ensure families and small businesses will receive aid as soon as possible.

A total of €10m will be funded to households through community welfare offices, while €5m will be used to support small businesses.

Tony Lawlor of the Irish Red Cross welcomed the move and said it aims to be as "straightforward and unbureaucratic as possible".

"The particulars have yet to be worked out and as we have information on the criteria, it will be published," he told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland.

"It's envisaged that this process will be as straightforward and unbureaucratic as possible."

Alerts

Wicklow County Council has launched a Text Alert system which will warn people about emergency situations – including flooding and bad weather situations.

This comes on the back of a series of Storms like Barney and Desmond which caused widespread damage across the country.

The Text Alert System will provide the people with information on weather warnings, road works, flooding and water supply information.

The alerts will be tailored for people living in Bray, Greystones, Arklow, Wicklow and Baltinglass.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) advised motorists to avoid travelling on roads directly affected by flooding.

Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy has praised the emergency services for their actions.

Mr Kennedy said: "I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services, who once again have stepped up to the mark to assist the public in times of difficulty.

"Recent heavy rainfall has caused flooding and disruption in various parts of Northern Ireland and especially the border area. This afternoon people travelling on the Armagh Road in Moy found themselves trapped due to flooding and were rescued by Firefighters.

"Given the tragic death of Ivan Vaughan who lost his life in the flood just across the border at Glaslough in County Monaghan on Sunday evening, it is imperative that everyone takes great care when out on the roads and does not take unnecessary risks."

Irish Independent

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