Saturday 27 December 2014

Stranded families pulled to safety but cost of storm could be millions

Published 02/02/2014 | 02:30

RIDING TO THE RESCUE: Horse owner Ger Hogan helped about 100 people caught up in flooding in St Mary’s Park in Limerick after the River Shannon burst its banks. Photo: Sean Curtin
RIDING TO THE RESCUE: Horse owner Ger Hogan helped about 100 people caught up in flooding in St Mary’s Park in Limerick after the River Shannon burst its banks. Photo: Sean Curtin
The rough seas in Clontarf
1/2/14 Lee Estate, Limerick after the River Shannon burst its banks in Limerick City in another wave of storms to hit the city. Pic Sean Curtin.
1/2/14 Saint Marys Park is totally under water after the River Shannon burst its banks in Limerick City in another wave of storms to hit the city. Pic Sean Curtin.
Cars cross the Wooden Bridge at Clontarf during yesterday's storm. Photo: Tony Gavin 1/2/2014
Sand bags at clontarf in readiness for the forecast Storm,
Sand bags at clontarf in readiness for the forecast Storm,
A distressed Ann Pickford and her daughter Audrey Considine are rescued from their flooded home on Athlunkard Street, Limerick

The clean-up has begun after storm force gales and torrential rain caused serious flooding in several areas yesterday and Met Eireann forecast more heavy rain and strong winds in the coming days.

Met Eireann issued a status orange warning today and said it will become very windy tonight, with strong and gusty south to southeast winds.

And the cost of the storm damage is expected to run into millions as assessments are made in badly hit areas like Limerick, Galway and Cork.

Over 60 people were evacuated in Limerick while 300 houses were badly damaged over the weekend.

It will be mostly cloudy tonight, with outbreaks of rain and drizzle, mainly in western and southern coastal counties at first, but becoming more widespread by morning and turning heavy in the southwest.

Strong winds and rain are expected to coincide with high tides.

Higher than normal tides worsened flooding problems in many areas over the weekend.

Families were rescued from their homes in Limerick when the Shannon burst its banks and caused the most serious flooding in the city in living memory.

Emergency services worked flat out to assist residents in a number of housing estates where people were trapped in their homes. Several boats were used to rescue elderly people in the Lee housing estate in the worst floods in living memory.

With winds gusting at up to 120kmh, Met Eireann issued a 'status orange' weather warning. More than 5,500 homes and businesses lost electricity supply. There were outages in Co Clare, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Mayo and Monaghan.

A code yellow warning is now in place and over 500 people are still without electricity.

Floods hit parts of Galway city and Co Kerry, while in Cork city a stretch of the River Lee burst its banks.

At Dublin Airport, 16 Aer Lingus morning flights were cancelled because of high winds.

In Limerick, which suffered the most from the storm's onslaught, scores of people have been evacuated from their homes across the city because of "unprecedented" floods. While Ger Hogan, 57, was hailed a hero after using a cart and his three-year-old mare Peg to bring stranded families to safety.

Parts of the city's St Mary's Park were under four feet of water and he estimated he brought up to 100 people through the flooded streets to dry ground. "The tide was terribly big. I've never seen it that big. People living here in St Mary's Park have never seen anything like this," he said.

In Athlunkard Street, houses and cars were submerged and resident Edel Hogan, who lives few feet from the river, said: "Myself and my partner and my daughter have no place to sleep tonight."

Their two-bedroom house is located below the river and had no chance when the waters burst the banks.

"Everything is destroyed. I left my home as the water was at the fourth step on my stairs," she said.

Her neighbour, Ann Pickford, 68, was in bed downstairs when water swamped her home around 7am.

"I'm just so shocked. I heard the water. Within a few seconds it was up to my bed. My couch was floating in the sitting room," she said, wiping her tears.

"Everything is gone. Our houses are gone. It was bad 14 years ago but this was worse. The water came over the eight-foot walls at the back of the house this morning. I couldn't see the top of the wall.

"I'm here 46 years and I never saw anything like this," she said.

Her daughter Audrey said: "The residents were given no help. There was no sandbags given out. Surely the council knew the high tides were coming."

Within the city, the Potato Market at Merchants' Quay, and Sarsfield House and the Circuit Court building have been flooded and emergency workers brought sandbags, pumping equipment and boats to the worst hit areas.

Director of service Paul Crowe told Live 95FM the flooding was "unprecedented".

Flood defences were put in place in areas deemed most at risk but a high tide exacerbated by high winds overwhelmed the defences.

The N21 at Adare, Co Limerick, was closed after the River Maigue burst its banks. Askeaton also suffered severe flooding.

The weekend storm caused severe damage on Inishbofin island, off Connemara.

Former publican John Day said a pier more than a century old that protected homes in the old East End Village was virtually demolished.

Lough Bofin lake was breached by huge waves and it will remain part of the Atlantic unless remedial works are undertaken urgently.

Galway senator Fidelma Healy Eames said coastal graveyards had been left exposed to the sea.

An estimated €18m in storm damage has resulted from recent storms and €3m is needed urgently to get repair works started, she said.

In Dublin, gardai and council workers closed the wooden bridge from Clontarf to Bull Island as waves fanned by high winds burst over the road.

Fergus Cooney, of the Howth Coastguard, said the public was being actively discouraged from walking on piers and headlands to avoid being swept away.

Cork's city quays were flooded at high tide shortly after 6am but flooding did not approach the levels reached last month. No major damage was caused.

Council officials warned that a flood alert remained in place until tonight due to the combination of high tides and heavy rainfall.

Flooding was also reported in Bandon, Skibbereen, Mallow and Carrigaline as the county endured torrential rainfall for over 12 hours.

Met Eireann stated scattered outbreaks of rain will spread from the north to southern counties tonight.

Tomorrow will be windy with strong gusts with outbreaks of rain.

On Tuesday, south-east winds will freshen with wet and windy weather arriving into the south-west during the afternoon, extending countrywide later.

Some heavy spells of rain are likely in the evening, leading to spot flooding.

Wednesday with be windy with strong gusts with rain in the morning and snow on higher ground.

Meanwhile, flood water has been found to contain 60 times the amount of safe bacteria for agricultural water.

Microbiologists from the University of Reading, commissioned by Sky News, found that flood waters in the UK contained 60,000 to 70,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres. According to the World Health Organisation, agricultural water should have no more than 1,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres.

It would take "about two to three months" for the bacterial levels to drop significantly, and warned that those involved in the clean-up operation must take precautions such as washing hands.

Irish Independent

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