Monday 19 March 2018

'We're surrounded by sandbags - but sewage comes up through the floors'

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

When Athlone-born Millie Prangnell returned from England to her native town 25 years ago, it was the gorgeous view of the Shannon which drew her to the house on the Strand.

From her sitting-room table upstairs in front of a huge window, the view is utterly tranquil. She can sit with a cup of tea and watch the river flow by, just a few feet from her door, with nothing to disturb the peace except for the busy toing and froing of river traffic.

Millie described it as "restful". But she hasn't had a restful time of it in the past few days. For the swollen river has thrown up more problems than just unwelcome water.

Yesterday, Millie's house was encircled by a rising tide of raw sewage. "All the time we were watching the front of the house, but instead the water came from drains at the back," she explained.

At least this time Millie knows what a horrible prospect could be in store for her property, for the entire ground-floor of her home, including her bedroom, was completely destroyed by an influx of sewage during the last major flood in 2009.

"We didn't have sandbags or anything. It just suddenly came through the drain right outside and rose up through the floors of the rooms downstairs," she said. "I was sleeping upstairs and everyone who visited begged me to move out straight away. The smell was atrocious."

Millie Prangnell looks down at her shower where she discovered sewage-contaminated floodwaters coming up through the drain, at her home in the Strand, Athlone
Millie Prangnell looks down at her shower where she discovered sewage-contaminated floodwaters coming up through the drain, at her home in the Strand, Athlone

To her shock, the insurance assessor arrived and threw every stick of furniture and every item stored in any of the affected rooms straight into her yard. Even things not touched by the water - clothes, bed-linen - were ejected. "Because it was sewage, everything was contaminated," she said.

Millie had to move out, just before Christmas. She was out for six months. "I couldn't believe what was going on. They even took all the plaster off the walls."

When she got her home back, she was hopeful that such a dreadful situation wouldn't arise again. And the council did make a few adjustments, moving the drain further away from her house. But the drainage scheme is a complex system, and that part of town had expanded in recent times, including the addition of two new apartment blocks.

"From then on, every time we had heavy rain, I was panicking." Ironically, until recent days, Millie had no concerns. A few weeks ago, she could see the bottom of the river from her balcony.

But the situation changed. The river rose. Then a few days ago council workers arrived with sandbags which they stacked along the river bank and around the three sides of her house. "You can see the waterfront - we're up to our eyes in sandbags. But for me the problem isn't just the river, it can get into my house without ever flowing over the bank."

On Wednesday, the drains overflowed again, up to her door. "It's all raw sewage, bits of toilet paper and everything. People had to walk through it to daily mass in the Friary next door - its grounds are covered in sewage water as well," she said. "I saw a woman and a child walking down the lane, and the little girl was playing in the flood, but they were too far away for me to warn them it contained sewage."

It was touch and go all day Wednesday, she explained. She's now watching her ground floors. She and her son Tim, who lives nearby, carried her bedlinen and other clothes upstairs.

Her furniture is again off the floor - a gleaming wooden floor installed five years ago. On Wednesday night, the council brought along a pump and worked it throughout the night, draining away some of the water. "In fairness, the council are better prepared and are doing their best".

But yesterday evening a broad stream of sewage water was still running around the house. There's a pungent smell permeating the place, and she can't run the shower or the washing machine, as the water has nowhere to go, with the mains already backed up. A pile of wet towels she used to block the shower plug-hole lie in a heap on the tiles. "All we can do is hope and wait," said Millie.

Irish Independent

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