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Flood-hit residents battle against rising water levels

Published 07/01/2016

Gerry Hagan, from the Rivers Agency, operates a pump at the home of Jimmy Quinn from Derrytresk, near Dungannon
Gerry Hagan, from the Rivers Agency, operates a pump at the home of Jimmy Quinn from Derrytresk, near Dungannon

Residents and business owners in flood-hit parts of Northern Ireland continue to battle against rising water levels.

Efforts to save properties around swollen loughs and rivers suffered another setback with a fresh downpour of rain on Wednesday night.

With flood waters showing little sign of receding, three Stormont ministers organised an urgent meeting with government agencies and local authorities on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill, Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen and Environment Minister Mark H Durkan each have responsibility for certain elements of the response.

Low-lying areas around sections of Lough Erne and Lough Neagh have been worst hit.

The home of 72-year-old Jimmy Quinn, who lives alone in the townland of Derrytresk near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, has been surrounded by water for 11 days. Rivers Agency staff having been manning water pumps outside his property 24/7 ever since.

"This is as bad as it's ever been," said Mr Quinn.

"Only for these men (from the Rivers Agency) watching these pumps day and night the water would be in the house."

The house - which is close to a tributary of Lough Neagh, the Blackwater River - has not had a working toilet since the floods began and Mr Quinn has been forced to sleep at his sister's home due to the noise of the water pumps.

He said he needs to wear full-length waders to leave the property.

Minister Michelle O'Neill with local farmers, Gary McManus and Bridget McCaffrey (right) and Kathleen McCaffrey (left), as she views the impact of flooding on homes, roads and farmland at Innishroosk outside Lisnaskea. PA
Minister Michelle O'Neill with local farmers, Gary McManus and Bridget McCaffrey (right) and Kathleen McCaffrey (left), as she views the impact of flooding on homes, roads and farmland at Innishroosk outside Lisnaskea. PA
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill with local schoolchildren, Kathleen McCaffrey (left) and Sean McCaffrey (right), as she views the impact of flooding on homes, roads and farmland at Innishroosk outside Lisnaskea. PA
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill with local farmer Jimmy Maguire, as she views the impact of flooding on homes, roads and farmland at Innishroosk outside Lisnaskea. PA
Flooding near Portadown
Farmer Benny Dunlop tends his lambing sheep close to the water level
Adrian McKernan and Megan Rafferty inside their flooded home
Farmer Roy Allen stands in one of his fields
A cottage is cut off by the flood

"Even if you are tall man, the ordinary wellingtons are no good," he said.

Sean Walshe, 57, owns the house next door. One of his older relatives lives there.

"It's just a total disaster," he said. "It's really depressing - it would really get you down. You get no sleep, you are worried every day.

"Every time it rains you are just dreading what will happen. This is the worst ever."

Gilbert Spence, from the Rivers Agency, predicted the pumps will be required at Derrytresk for at least another week.

"We have all come off leave to assist the community and lots of our boys are working maybe 18 to 20 hours a day pumping at these houses," he said.

Nearby, on the shores of Lough Neagh, businesses at the Kinnego Marina have already been swamped by the waters.

Paul Quinn, who runs South Shore Marine and Diesel, said the water level inside his flooded business rose by another inch and a half on Wednesday night.

"This site has been here for 40 years and we've never had anything close to this," he said.

Mr Quinn said he had concerns the authorities could have done more to lower the water levels in Lough Neagh before the winter storms.

But he added: "There are questions to be asked, but it's not the blame game - that's for further down the line. We need some sort of help now."

He said he would only be able to keep on his nine staff if the Stormont Executive delivered sufficient support measures.

He added: "This water could be here for weeks, maybe months."

After the emergency meeting at Loughry college in Cookstown, the Stormont ministers said they had explored measures to enhance flood protection and also considered strengthening the multi-agency response approach.

Ms O'Neill said she would announce details next week of a new grant scheme to help people protect their homes.

"Today, we looked at where more could be done to reduce the risks of flooding in the future," she said.

"As Rivers Minister, I intend to seek resources to use to improve our flood protections where necessary."

Ms McIlveen said agencies had been working round the clock.

"My key priority is to identify any immediate remedial works that need to be carried out on roads which have been flooded to ensure they are opened as quickly as possible," she said.

"As well as carrying out emergency repairs, I will be seeking to identify longer-term measures to address any issues with the roads infrastructure."

Mr Durkan highlighted that a grant system to help people trying to repair flood damage to their homes was already available.

"Over recent years we have seen much heartache for homeowners dealing with the aftermath of flooded homes," he said.

"Flooding can no longer be termed as a one off or once in a hundred years. It is happening on a regular basis. It is important that government ministers and local councils work in a joined up way to tackle the problem and help those most severely affected to get back to normal."

At the meeting the ministers were told that flood gates controlling water flow from Lough Neagh have been fully open since November 10 and that, even when the weather improves, it will take a while for the lough's water levels to drop.

The Cliff Hydro station at Ballyshannon in the Irish Republic controls the flow from Lough Erne. It is also currently operating at maximum flow levels.

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