Sunday 17 December 2017

'We’re up all night trying to protect our properties' - River Shannon residents 'desperate'

Harry Waterstone helps to keep the floods from his door at Wolfe Tone Terrace, Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Harry Waterstone helps to keep the floods from his door at Wolfe Tone Terrace, Athlone, Co. Westmeath. Photo: Tony Gavin

Claire McCormack

For Athlone man Harry Waterstone it has been a long and lonely vigil.

He has spent the last five damp, cold, nights on patrol outside his home at Wolf Tone Terrace along the banks of the River Shannon.

His job - to make sure the pumps are running, sandbags are in place and that the lapping waves remain at bay.

For now, the system is working, but with further snow and rain forecast, fear is lingering along The Strand.

“We’re holding our own here, but that doesn’t make it right. This shouldn't be happening, it’s not good enough and it’s taking a mental and physical toll on the residents,” he said.

The 18 families, single people and retirees living along Wolf Tone Terrace have set up a 24 hour rota system  to protect their homes - just five meters from where the Shannon has burst its banks.

“Myself and my son David were out here until 4am this morning and I was back out again at 9am but we haven’t really gotten any sleep. You’re too worried about what you might face when we wake up,” he said pointing to an on-going emergency situation outside Flynn's funeral home where the water continues to edge close to the front door.

“At this stage we’re all very tired, it’s a psychological battle. We’re up all night trying to protect our properties, people are desperate,” he said staring out at a flock of swans swimming near his backdoor.

Although Mr Waterstone, and his neighbours, praise the civil defence, army and local authority for their response, they stress that it shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.

“Not a thing has been done about flood defences since the so called ‘once in a lifetime’ floods back in 2009. The whole issue was put on the back burner. Sandbags are not the answer, they are only a first line of defence. There is no effective emergency response, the streets are covered in sewage and there’s no guarantee we won’t be in the same situation again in a few weeks time,”  said Mr Waterstone, who has lived on the water front in the heart of the town all his life.

Adam Courtney, another resident along The Strand says “it’s a joke” that actions are taken by authorities after the floods and bad weather occurs.

“Instead of putting up our Christmas tree we are laying blocks in the backyard in case we have to hoist up our fridge, freezer and couch,” he said.

“At the moment we are pulling together and we’re very lucky that the water isn’t at our back door but it’s outrageous that we should have to deal with this again,” he said adding that members of the Civil Defence delivered Chinese food to the residents during their night watch.

"We'll be out again for the next four or five nights. Christmas will be a bit of a non-event for many families along The Strand this year," he said.

Water levels on the River Shannon are continuing to rise slowly and are being closely monitored by  Westmeath County Council.

Yesterday the water levels increased by approximately 70mm and three houses have been flooded in the Athlone area.

The ESB estimate that the Shannon will continue to slowly rise  in the area until Wednesday.

The highest predicted level is 39.45 meters - around 50mm above current levels.

A spokesman for the council said: “The current flooding in Athlone is having a sever affect on a small portion of the town but the effects are localised and there is no impact on the town at large”.

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