An investigation is set to be launched by Roads Service after the Westlink underpass was submerged in 20 feet of floodwater.
The new underpass is expected to remain closed for most of today — resulting in widespread traffic chaos across Belfast — as emergency services try to pump out the floodwater.
Several cars are still believed to be submerged in the water after motorists abandoned their vehicles as the water levels rose on Saturday.
Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy ordered the Roads Service to launch a full investigation and visited the flooded Westlink yesterday afternoon, along with Environment Minister Sammy Wilson, following an emergency meeting at Stormont.
Householders across Northern Ireland whose homes were affected by flooding caused by the torrential downpours are set to receive an emergency payment. Those hit by last year’s floods received £1,000.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Water’s customer relations centre dealt with over 4,000 calls this weekend as one month’s rainfall lashed the province in just 12 hours on Saturday.
A full investigation is set to be launched by Roads Service to ascertain how and why the underpass of the Westlink was submerged in 20 feet of flood water this weekend.
Traffic chaos was expected today as the Westlink remained closed.
As the emergency services remained at the scene yesterday to pump water out of the multi-million pound underpass, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy ordered Road Services launch an investigation into the incident.
The underpass will only be re-opened when all the flood water has been pumped out.
It is thought the flooding was caused when a pumping station beside the road was overwhelmed when a nearby river overflowed.
A section of the central barrier had to be cut with angle-grinders to allow traffic to be turned away.
Several cars are believed to be submerged in the water as motorists abandoned their vehicles as water levels rose.
Following Saturday’s widespread flooding which affected many areas of Northern Ireland, an emergency meeting was held at Stormont and was attended by Conor Murphy and Environment Minister Sammy Wilson.
Also in attendance were senior figures from government departments and agencies.
The ministers were informed that almost one month’s rainfall fell in just 12 hours on Saturday.
Following the emergency meeting, the two ministers announced an emergency payment scheme to help householders hit by severe flooding.
Mr Wilson, whose department will administer the payment scheme, said: “Ministers have agreed that, as in the wake of the June 2007 floods, funds should be made available to local councils to help those most affected by the weekend’s serious floods.
“I have been in contact with colleagues in the Executive and we are in agreement that funding should be made available through local councils to help people most severely affected to get back on their feet again and to assist them in ensuring their homes are habitable.”
As the meeting at Stormont ended yesterday, both Mr Wilson and Mr Murphy made their way from Stormont to the Westlink to see the flooding for themselves.
Mr Murphy revealed he had ordered Roads Service to carry out a full investigation to ascertain why the underpass became flooded, why it didn’t clear itself as quickly as it should and examine what steps can be made to prevent flooding on this scale again.
West Belfast councillor Tim Attwood said “serious questions” needed to be asked about why the newly constructed underpass was submerged in 20 feet of water.
Praising the team of workers for their “tireless efforts” in tackling Saturday’s floods, Councillor Attwood last night said: “The Roads Service has serious questions to answer about how the new Westlink underpass could be flooded so quickly.
“I viewed the Broadway Underpass on Sunday morning and it took the workers all day to deal with the flood water.
“This means traffic chaos as the main route in to Belfast is impassable. The Roads Service will have to explain how this could happen and what steps they are going to take to ensure this does not happen again.”
Northern Ireland Water said its Customer Relations Centre answered more than 4,000 calls over the course of the weekend.
And there is yet more rain on the way with localised thunderstorms predicted for this week.
Traffic solution becomes a problem
The Westlink and M1 upgrade scheme began in February 2006 at a cost of around £104m in a bid to solve the problems of daily rush-hour bottlenecks.
The underpass was opened to traffic at the start of July — 13 months ahead of schedule — and was designed to improve the strategic links between the M1, the M2 and the M3 motorways.
However, less than two months after it was opened, the underpass is now closed to traffic after it was submerged in 20 feet of flood water.
Major delays are expected on the M1 and surrounding areas as work continues to pump the water from the underpass.