Up to 50 residents in the Co Armagh village of Keady were allowed back into their homes last night after a three-day security alert.
But many told the Belfast Telegraph of their fury at being kept out for so long as the security forces probed two mortar bombs abandoned in a van outside the police station.
Homes in the Makem Park, Crossdened Row and Davis Street areas had to be cleared after the bombs, which police described as having “the potential to cause death or serious injury”, were defused.
A number of businesses were forced to close as they found themselves within the zone cordoned off. Even businesses outside the restricted zone said takings were very low during the peak of the alert on Friday and Saturday — ordinarily a prime shopping time.
A worker at Quinn’s Stores off the main village square said business was down “hugely” and that people were “extremely annoyed” at how long it was taking to clear the area.
The two mortar bombs were discovered in a white van which was parked diagonally across the road in front of the police station.
Locals reported it to police at around 6.30am on Friday but officers were not on the scene until 9.30am and the area was not cordoned off until 10am.
Many of the residents only discovered they had been made temporarily homeless when they emerged from morning mass at the nearby chapel.
Last night they were able to return to their homes but many were angry at how long the security operation had taken.
One homeowner in the Makem Park area told the Belfast Telegraph she had never been evacuated from her house, even throughout the Troubles.
“It was disgraceful. I wasn’t even able to change clothes since Friday,” she said.
“The fault lies with those who left the bomb but also with police. Why did it take so long to let us get back to our homes?
“I just grabbed the car seat for the child because I only thought it was going to be an hour or so.
“No-one else knew how long it would be either. Another woman was in her slippers and wasn’t able to get back to her house to change.”
Her husband added: “A nurse living up the road from us wasn’t able to get home to get her uniform.”
Gerry Juerzy and his heavily pregnant wife Malgorzaia were also among those who had to be moved.
“We were able to stay with friends. We have a baby on the way so we were just relieved it had not come yet,” he said.
“We only took extra clothes with us but we had no idea how long we were going to be out for; it got pretty uncomfortable.” Another resident with young children had planned a party for a friend visiting from Liverpool which had to be cancelled.
“It was a torture. We stayed with family but it was just awkward as we had planned a party for our friend but we had been put out of our house,” he said.
“It just seems ridiculous.”
Sinn Fein Newry and Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan criticised how long it had taken to clear the area and said he had questions to ask police about the operation.
However, he commended residents and businesses in the village for coming together and showing community spirit during the alert.
Armagh Council opened Keady Community Centre as a temporary crisis centre for residents on Friday and Saturday, providing food and making sure everyone was able to find somewhere to stay.
All the residents stayed with relatives or friends although hotel accommodation was offered.
Armagh mayor Thomas O’Hanlon, who lives in the village, said the alert was an “inconvenience”.
“They could have hurt or killed pensioners, young families and couples living in the area around the police station,” the SDLP man said.
“People have been seeing more police in the area. They have been high visibility going around but not harassing the locals; that is a big thing for Keady. Now people are worried this is going to have an impact on that.”