Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Stranded, suffering, scared... how the weather has crippled us

From farmers to hostel owners, commuters, parents and patients, the snow crisis has had a devastating impact. Sara Smyth talks to those caught in the storm

Locals take to the fields, off the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, due to unpassable snow drifts
Locals take to the fields, off the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, due to unpassable snow drifts
Roma Laverty builds a snowman with mum Clare in Ballycastle
Roma Laverty builds a snowman with mum Clare in Ballycastle
Carter Gilmore and Matthew Wilson pictured enjoying the snow at Stormont in Belfast
Carter Gilmore and Matthew Wilson pictured enjoying the snow at Stormont in Belfast

'Our cows are suffering'

Irene McIlroy is a dairy farmer in Dromara. She hasn't been able to feed her 400 animals properly since last Thursday.

"What we've been going through is terrible. Our cows are freezing and hungry – they're really suffering. We have managed to scrape together some grain for them but we can't get to our silage, which is a huge problem. We're making do but nobody seems to care.

We're surrounded by 15ft drifts and can't get out of the front gate. I'm trying to keep the family fed but my resources are stretched and the cupboards are getting empty. We've called the Roads Service for help so many times but all we hear is that farmers aren't a priority.

When the roof of our barn collapsed in from the weight of the snow yesterday, we phoned the police because there's no-one else to turn to."

'It's like living in wartime'

Orla McCabe lives in Mount Eagles estate in Dunmurry. The 700 houses have been cut off since the snow started.

"We've been waiting on the snow plough to turn up for three days. We are told the same old story that help is on its way. We've taken it into our own hands and started to dig up the street. The local shop is out of bread and milk – I feel like I'm living off rations in wartime."

'Sheep dying every hour'

Eoin Kelly is a sheep farmer in Finnis, near Dromara. He says:

"The sheep are dying by the hour because of the weather. The lambing season is in full swing but we can't cope at all. My hands are tied – there's no suitable field to put the sheep into but there's no room in the barn for them. We're giving the lambs the minimum attention because we're so short for time and they're dying from the cold.

Every time the power goes, our infra-red lights cut out so I'm stumbling around in the dark and the newly-born lambs are trembling.

It's a complete disaster, but what am I to do – throw 200 sheep and their lambs into a snowy field?"

'The strain's unbelievable'

Olive Mercer is a councillor and sheep farmer in Dromore. She says:

"These are very difficult conditions for farmers. The extra work and strain that is put on them is unbelievable.

These are not the kind of people who complain easily, but everyone is in a state of distress. I'm concerned about how this will get resolved. People are stranded in their own homes and are getting desperate.

A neighbour of mine is running out of the prescription formula that her seven-month-old baby takes.

She can't get out of her house but only has enough to last another few hours.

We're all keeping our fingers crossed that things change. It's a shambles."

'It felt really dangerous'

Ursula McCollam lives in Mayfield, Glengormley. She says:

"I've had a surreal weekend. My husband and I abandoned our cars a mile from home last Friday and carried our sons the rest of the way. My husband wrapped our 18-month-old in his coat and carried him the rest of the way to try and keep him warm. The wind was so strong it would have almost knocked you over. It felt really dangerous."

'It's our critical time of year'

James McHenry is a sheep farmer from Dromara. Two of his 80ft barns collapsed under the weight of the snow. He says:

"It was like dropping a glass on the floor. The roof fell right through and shattered. My wife had walked out of one of them just minutes before.

I can't bear to think what might have been. One of the sheds was for lambing and nursing the newborns in the first few hours of their life. The other stored feed, which is now ruined.

This weather is devastating. The farming community is in crisis.

I'm finding dead lambs in the snow. The conditions are so bad that any sheep that starts lambing outside doesn't stand a chance.

I'm pulling sheep out of 15-20 foot drifts. It's been so upsetting, my wife and I have had an awful time and are close to breaking down.

Lambing season is our harvest – it's our critical time of year. We don't get a second shot at it.

We're told we are key to the Northern Irish economy. Well, if that's true, then where's the help?"

'We have been deserted'

Robert Hart is part-time sheep farmer. He owns a 100-acre farm in Dromara that is leased out.

"It's the height of lambing season and the snow storms have knocked the farming community for six. I spent two-and-a-half hours digging sheep out of snow drifts yesterday morning. And even the sheep who are inside are in a bad way – the lambs are dying and the sheep don't recognise their young because they're so distressed. I understand keeping the main roads open is a priority but we have been deserted. There are damaged fences and gates all over the country. The place is in ruins. As it is now, there's not much we can do."

'We were asked to leave'

Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph concert reviewer, on the cancellation of Friday's sell-out Ulster Orchestra concert at the Ulster Hall. He says:

"We were asked to leave. I think that this was the first time a concert was cancelled at the last minute, even through the Troubles."

'Our family trekked for miles to safety'

Paul Connolly, the Belfast Telegraph's managing editor, went without water or power for 24 hours before fleeing to a relative.

"It was an impressive sight. A near mile-long road blocked by multiple snowdrifts, some up to 10ft or more high. Between the drifts, the snow was impressively deep, though beguilingly crisp. It was mid-morning on Saturday in the Antrim hills between Carrick and Ballyclare. With no water or electricity for 24 hours, virtually no heating, and mobile phones either dead or dying, we decided to leave home and find sanctuary with relatives.

The main problem was how to get out. A Challenger tank couldn't have navigated our road. The only option was by foot.

Full ski gear on, and overnight things packed into rucksacks, we set out.

There was another route, just a quarter of a mile and blocked by equally towering drifts. But that would have led us to a three-mile march along a snow-bound main road and we did not want to put ourselves at the risk of lorries and cars slip-sliding its winding route.

So we took the longer part of the road. There were four of us (eldest child being away on a school trip) plus dog. Through the snow and arctic winds we plodded, clambering over the drifts, at times waist-deep and often standing high above the hedgerows.

It was tough going, but spirits were high. Finally, after almost an hour, we reached the local village, some 300ft down the valley. Here, friendly tractors and ploughs had at least cleared single-lane routes.

Another hour later, we were at a main highway, and in a car being whisked to Larne, where to our amazement not a single snowflake had fallen."

'Oscar's dad carried him to his home'

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service went to the aid of four-year-old cancer patient Oscar Knox. Its Facebook page reported:

"When returning from hospital, wee Oscar Knox got stranded in the snow about a mile from home. One of our Rapid Recovery Vehicles was able to get him and his dad to the entrance of his development, from where his dad carried him in his arms to the house.

Just can't help thinking that in times of adversity there is no one better at pulling together than people who live here.

Well done to you all and thank you."

'I wish I had not bought this house'

Sharon is a mother-of-three from Lagmore, on the outskirts of west Belfast. Her two-year-old son suffers from breathing problems.

"When I see this weather coming my heart sinks because I know there's no hope of getting an ambulance up here. My son's condition means he stops breathing quite often. We've an oxygen kit but sometimes we have to call for medical help. I need medication tomorrow but there's only one route out and it's impassable. It's horrible being stuck up here – I wish I hadn't bought this house."

'We're all marooned in the drifts'

Liz Weir, the renowned storyteller and writer, owns Ballyeamon Barn, a hostel in Cushendall. She has cancelled visitors for the coming week.

"We have been marooned here since Thursday with snow drifts of 6-8 feet. Looking out the window, all I see is a wall of snow facing me. We are one of the highest houses in Antrim and whenever the bad forecast comes, I know we're in trouble. I don't know when we'll next be up and running."

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