Wednesday 21 February 2018

Threat of flooding will get worse as Shannon to reach critical 2009 levels

Air Corps handout photo of a farm near Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo after Storm Desmond hit the area over the weekend.
Air Corps handout photo of a farm near Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo after Storm Desmond hit the area over the weekend.
Raw sewage on the streets of Athlone this morning
Sandbags in Athlone this morning
Sandbags in Athlone this morning
Flood waters in Athlone this morning
Flood waters in Athlone this morning.
Flood waters in Athlone this morning
Catherine Lynch pictured with her son Sean in a boat at the flooded entrance to their basement and Garage at the side of their house at Carrowkeel Co Sligo . Picture Credit Frank Mc Grath
Click to see a bigger version of the graphic
Cygnets in a park by the River Shannon, in Athlone. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

Paul Melia and Kevin Doyle and Denise Calnan

The threat of severe flooding will hang over towns along the River Shannon for at least another week as more heavy rain sweeps in off the Atlantic.

Water levels on the Shannon are expected to reach 2009 levels - the highest on record which saw large swathes of the country underwater - by the weekend, prompting fears of major flooding across Clare, Limerick and Tipperary.

There is also concern for towns along the river, such as Athlone, where the river burst its banks in places last night.

In Athlone last night, residents of parts of the town to deal with high water and sewage coming up the drains after high winds blew water back upstream.

This morning flood water lies just a few feet from houses in the Strand area in Athlone. Hundreds of sandbags were in place overnight, along with several pumps stationed throughout the town.

Flood waters in Athlone this morning

Interviewed on Morning Ireland., local man Tadgh Curran told how he was aggrieved at the response to the floods.

“It is our duty to look after our own houses and properties but it is not our duty to ensure that the streets are passable. It is not our duty to ensure that sewage does not build up on the public streets.”

The National Co-ordination Group (NCG) has warned that while levels are falling in a number of rivers which flooded over the weekend, the lower Shannon will be affected over the coming days.

"One-fifth of the country drains down through the Shannon... concern for NCG remains on the lower and middle Shannon catchment, where the water levels continue to rise steadily as the rain from last weekend makes its way to the sea," a briefing note seen by the Irish Independent says. "Some rivers remain at critical levels and the Shannon is still rising. Weekend will be a critical period with high tides expected (half metre higher than last weekend). Spilling from Parteen Weir could reach 450m3/s (2009) levels by weekend."

Geraldine Quinlan from Clonlara in Co. Clare on banks of Shannon told Newstalk Breakfast:

"My sister-in-law and nephew moved out to live with a relative because of safety concerns because the water outside their house is extremely high at the moment."

"My mum is 86. She rang crying last night because she had seen a clip on TV of the flooding and it upset her to see her little home being threatened again. It brought back very bad memories of 2009 when she had to be removed from her home in a wheelchair on the back of a tractor."

"We will battle until we draw our last breath to ensure those houses don't get flooded."

Kieran Cuddihy  from the Park estate on the  Roscommon side of Athlone also spoke this morning.

"In Deerpark there's a few inches of water around houses but there's acres of farmland covered by water a few feet deep."

"The slow rise of the Shannon means the residents fear the water will flood into their homes."

"Athlone Castle used to have a moate in the 13th Centuary when it was built and it's looking that way this morning as water pours in from where the Shannon burst its banks last night."

"Businesses and schools in Athlone are already flooded and hundreds of homes are under threat."

Thousands of sandbags have been distributed to towns and villages, with members of the Defence Forces and council staff working around the clock to protect homes and businesses.

In Sligo, 12ft of water engulfed the family home of widow Catherine Lynch.

The head of the NCG warned no amount of readiness will save some properties.

Sean Hogan said: "Unfortunately we've seen as the floods keep rising and the waters keep rising and with sandbagging, it's still not able to protect all properties and the water seeps around. Properties remain under threat despite knowing the areas which are at risk."

It is understood several families living close to the Shannon have been warned by officials that they should consider leaving their homes ahead of the weekend. By last night, just a small overflow was reported in Athlone.

However, as much as 450,000 litres of water a second will be released from the Parteen Weir, following days of heavy rain, with officials warning river levels remain dangerously high as Storm Desmond continues to take its toll.

There is also a warning flood waters may not recede "for days and weeks" in some places. Families and business people affected by the flooding to date can expect to receive some degree of payment from the State before Christmas, the Irish Independent understands.

The criteria for accessing money from the €5m being given to the Irish Red Cross is likely to be determined by the weekend.

"The plan is that everybody without flood insurance will get money by Christmas," said a source.

However, they added: "It may not be a very large payment. This is not a compensation scheme."

Met Éireann said there will be showers in the west and north today, becoming widespread during the afternoon.

However, it forecast possible heavy rainfall for the south of the country over the weekend.

Speaking in Paris at the UN climate summit, Environment Minister Alan Kelly ruled out a return home to oversee the emergency response, saying he was in constant contact with officials and that all available local authority staff had been deployed.

He expressed concern that areas not believed to be at risk had flooded, and said an audit of local authorities was underway to determine the extent of the damage and to outline costs.

The Government would meet the bill, he said.

"I think the response is very good. Every single member of outdoor staff in the affected areas are out as many hours as they can physically work," he said.

"In conjunction with the gardaí, Defence Forces and Civil Defence, everything that can be done at the local authority and community side is being done."

Irish Independent

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