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Floods crisis: 'Politicians should come down to see this, not sit in their offices'

By Linda Stewart

Published 07/01/2016

Flooding near Portadown
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

A couple who poured all their money into renovating a house can only watch in despair as it fills up with cold and filthy floodwater.

The Birches area, which lies between Portadown and Dungannon, has been transformed into a vast lakeland after the Upper Bann burst its banks and deluged the surrounding farmland.

Swans coast between the submerged fence posts, just yards from beleaguered farmyards where walls of sandbags have been piled up against the encroaching waters.

Adrian and Megan McKernan have gone for days without sleep as they battle to stave off the waters from their newly renovated home. They put all their money into the house and moved in just before Christmas, only for the rising tide of water and mud to pour in.

Megan said they have had to take the newly installed kitchen out and lift floorboards that were put down two weeks ago. Now Rivers Agency staff are battling to keep the floodwater back using pumps and walls of sandbags.

"All the water was sucked into the walls that had just been plastered," Megan said.

Adrian added: "We haven't been to sleep - it's a full time job pumping out the water. My father has used up his holidays to help out. All our money has been pumped into the house and it has been a complete waste. If I stand in the yard, it's up over my knee.

"I don't know the cause of it, whether it's the river, drains or sluice gates, but it seems to be occurring more and more all over."

Meanwhile, Glen and Lynsey Allen, whose first baby is due next week, are suffering sleepless nights after the floods deluged the roads around their home.

"Every time I come into the house she is worrying and she has enough to worry about," Glen said.

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

Glen is up all night manning the pumps and the couple are worried that if anything serious happens, they won't be able to direct the ambulance to the house.

"The way we usually come is maybe 800 metres out to the main road, but now you are having to go round four miles," Glen said.

"I am up every night monitoring the pumps to keep them going - it's an awful strain financially and mentally.

"The powers-that-be at the top, all those politicians, need to come down and see this - it's no good sitting up there in their big offices. Until you are on the ground and see the volume of water around, you don't really appreciate it."

His brother Stephen said everyone is dubious about claims by the Rivers Agency that the sluice gates have been fully opened at Toome.

He began piling up banks of sandbags on New Year's Eve after water began pouring into the slurry tanks and is going through 100 litres of diesel a day to keep the floodwater out of the shed where the cows and cattle are housed - but the farmyard is now an island in a vast lake. If the pumps were turned off, the cowshed would be two feet deep in water and there is nowhere to move the animals."

Their brother Roy added: "If this keeps going, the septic tanks will stop working. This is going to leave the houses across this whole area uninsurable and unmortgageable."

Another neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, said people have offered to house him and his wife after floodwater and sewage swept through their thatched cottage.

They contacted the Rivers Agency on New Year's Eve as the water rose and staff have been working to keep the floods at bay with sandbags and pumps.

"The night before last the water rose quite a bit and the pump wasn't strong enough to take the water. The bottom of the house was flooded and they brought out this big pump.

"But it's just recycling the water - there's nowhere for it to go," he said. "My wife was up all last night worrying about it. Then about 4am, the pump stopped and the kitchen was flooded, the living room, the bottom bedroom. The whole place was full of muck and glar.

"We can't use the shower or use the washing machine or the toilet because the septic tank is banjaxed."

The cottage is a Grade II listed building that dates back to 1705.

"I phoned the insurance company and they said this is a red flood risk area, which they hadn't told me before. But this house has been here for 300 years - it's not going anywhere. This is exceptional - I've seen floods before, but never like that."

The only way many people have made it through so far is by rallying to help each other out and providing land for neighbours' animals threatened by the floods.

Despite the floods at his own farm, Harold Rainey (81) has provided a shed for his neighbour Sam Bentley to house his sheep while they are lambing.

Harold said he has been living at his farm since he was three and has never seen anything like it.

"On New Year's Day, the water was flooding in. The cattle were standing in six inches of water when I got up in the morning, so I had to get a pump and pump it out," he said.

"If we get the rain tonight that they are talking about, I don't know what we are going to do. I will be in serious bother."

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