THE Mid-West was last night braced for extensive flooding and severe damage as the Shannon River burst its banks.
Water levels in the river along Clare, Limerick and north Tipperary reached record levels and the ESB warned last night that flooding could be expected on sections of the river on the outskirts of Limerick city.
An estimated 460 tonnes of water per second was approaching Limerick city from the Shannon River last night following days of heavy rain. Residents located along riverside flood plains feared the worst after high water levels were released by the ESB at Parteen Weir.
"The discharge levels have been growing in recent days, but the release of higher volumes of water will become unavoidable," the ESB said.
In a statement, it said downstream areas could expect higher flood levels as a result. It described the recent rainfall as "unprecedented".
Last night, residents in the Shannon banks area of Limerick city were considering evacuating their homes as water levels rose to their front doors. Sandbags were deployed by Defence Forces' members at doors and driveways in the suburb in a desperate bid to prevent further extensive damage.
Senior engineer with Limerick County Council Donal Brennan said "substantially higher water levels" were approaching Limerick city and the outlying regions.
Mr Brennan said the water levels were higher than those recorded in major floods in Limerick in 1990.
Last night, homes in the Castleconnell, Montpellier, O'Brien's Bridge, Mountshannon and Plassey regions were under threat. A small number of residents were advised by authorities to consider evacuating their homes before darkness fell. Several roads across Clare and Limerick were closed.
Forty families remained homeless in Ennis where Taoiseach, Brian Cowen visited. He said that the flood damage would have been a lot worse but for the local emergency plan.
As part of his tour of damaged flood areas yesterday, Mr Cowen -- in wellingtons -- inspected the damage caused by the floods at Ennis's Gort Road industrial estate before going to see the effects in the town centre. The clean-up was continuing in the town yesterday.
Speaking after the tour and meeting with the inter-agency crisis management team, Mr Cowen said: "It is local personnel with frontline experience who know how to deal with this and who are getting on with co-ordinating the response."
"The local emergency plans are working very well and people are very determined to overcome whatever obstacles this challenge poses for them in each locality," he said.
Last night, 108 individuals -- mainly from the local authority Oakwood Drive estate in Ennis -- were continuing to receive emergency shelter at the West County Hotel in the town. The residents have been staying at the hotel since last Friday when they were rescued by boat from their homes by army personnel.
Oakwood Drive resident Sharon Hayes said that a number of families in the estate were forced to leave pets behind during the army evacuation. Last night, their houses were undergoing health and safety checks. Already, a number of the families have said that they don't know where they will be spending Christmas this year.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said that medical and social care personnel have worked through the last number of days to assist the families at the hotel. The remaining families who were forced to evacuate their homes are staying with relatives and friends.
The HSE also confirmed that nursing home Cappahard Lodge, with 28 residents, is still closed and the residents remain at Ennis General Hospital.
A Clare County Council spokesman said that in excess of 20,000 sandbags have been used at various locations throughout Ennis since last Thursday and sandbags continue to be available.