Families forced to evacuate their homes after flood water swept through them may not be back in their properties for Christmas — and possibly not until months afterwards.
They must also throw away everything the dirty water touched due to the threat of disease.
Torrents of water cascaded into the houses in Bealaghmor in the Ballymagroarty area of Londonderry during heavy downpours on Tuesday night, forcing the families to flee.
But yesterday residents were told that rather than being able to begin the clean-up and return to their homes, it could be three to six months before that is possible.
The home shared by Rosaleen Donegan and her little son Odhran (4) bore the brunt of the force of the water. It was left so badly contaminated that even though the water has now been pumped out, she cannot re-enter her house.
Every piece of furniture in the downstairs of Rosaleen's house has now been rendered unfit for use. But away from the water marks, the leaves, broken twigs and copious piles of muck, it is still possible to see how perfect it once was.
In the corner of her living room her meticulously decorated Christmas tree still stands, and in the kitchen every piece of equipment shows just how high the water reached.
“We were told by the housing association that we won't be able to go back until everything has been de-contaminated and dried out. They said it could take up to three months but in the case of me and Raymond Beattie next door it could be six months,” said Rosaleen.
Rosaleen is now desperately trying to find somewhere for her and Odhran to live where they can spend Christmas. Help, however, is not as readily available as she thought it would.
“The housing association doesn't do short-term rents so I went to the Housing Executive and they have nothing,” she said.
Two doors away from Rosaleen, Catherine Ferguson is in a very similar situation and the lack of information about who or where she can turn to for help is exacerbating the whole mess.
She explains: “We met with the housing association on Wednesday and they told us to throw everything out that the water touched.
“But I have no home insurance so I have lost it all — same as the others. We are all in the same boat.
“The neighbours have been so good and Fr Paddy our priest has been up with us and he sent the St Vincent de Paul up and the local councillors have offered to help — but when it comes to the statutory agencies they don't want to know.
“My son is only six months so while everything looks all right, there is no way I would take a chance because of him.
“We are staying with his granny now but you can't impose on people for months. A week or two is one thing but not for months, it's not fair to ask.”