Rivers Agency slammed as flood-hit Tyrone traders count cost at Linen Green
Defiant retailers vow to go on despite flood damage in millions, but want answers over cause of the deluge
Retailers at one of Northern Ireland's top designer developments have been forced to dump millions of pounds worth of destroyed stock amid claims that the floodwater which devastated their shops could have been prevented.
There were scenes of devastation at the Linen Green in Moygashel, Co Tyrone, yesterday as owners counted the cost of damage caused by Storm Desmond over the weekend.
Instead of preparing for the Christmas rush, traders were throwing out bags of clothes soaked in dirty water, stacks of destroyed designer shoes, homeware items and food that was to be supplied for festive parties.
Concerns have been raised that it could spell the end to some stores as the cost of the damage continues to rise.
Early investigations into the flood suggest it was caused by a blocked grille in a nearby culvert.
A spokesperson for the Rivers Agency said it had been cleared last week but the storm caused debris to collect at the grille, which obstructed the flow of water.
Claire Murray owns Deli On The Green, a bistro situated at the lower end of the complex.
She has lost a minimum of £150,000 in food, equipment and anticipated repairs, and said that all 31 stores at the outlet had been affected by the flood.
The bistro remained shut yesterday as staff, friends and family helped to clear up the mess.
"We were under a foot of water on Sunday and there was definitely diesel in it too, as there was a very strong smell of it," she said.
"It hasn't surprised me that this has happened. I don't know who is to blame but someone hasn't been doing their job. There seems to be compromising somewhere and I think this could have been avoided.
"All of our food stock and some kitchen equipment is ruined, fridges and freezers are ruined, we need new floors and the furniture needs to be replaced. I would say this will have cost me £150,000 at a minimum."
Despite battling flooded floors, and with walls and display units bearing the marks of the water damage, many traders remained defiant, pledging to reopen today and in the week ahead.
Gareth Bell, who owns Panache shoe store, said it was the hard work of his team that enabled the shop to reopen yesterday.
"Just 24 hours ago the shop floor was covered in water up to my ankles and we were in complete disbelief walking around the water and looking at everything that is wrecked," he said.
"We got a new floor just two months ago so it's totally heartbreaking that it will have to be lifted. We lost around £40,000 worth of stock and it will hit takings, but we are trading.
"This is the time when we really kick off and prepare for the Christmas rush. We had a huge team behind us, cleaning up the shop, so it was brilliant to have so many people helping us out."
Martin McDonnell, general manager at the Ulster Weavers Gift and Fabric store, said: "When I arrived at the store it was flooded in over an inch of water.
"We got the team in and spent all day pushing the water out and cleaning up the store and it means we are open and trading. We won't let this beat us."
Floors will have to be replaced across many of the stores while the local community, friends and family have rallied behind the businesses to help clean up.
Anita Ross, who co-owns fashion store The Boudoir, said: "I was met with complete devastation on Sunday. A lot of the retailers were out with their goods on the street, destroyed and in tears. We have lost over £100,000 of stock.
"We need assurances that this will never happen again because we could never afford it."
Gareth McFarland, who owns an interior design store, said: "There's about £75,000 worth of damaged stock and further damage caused to fabrics we had ordered in for Christmas, so it means we have had to re-order them again.
"By the time we are finished, it will be in the six figures. It has been so devastating but we will come back from this."
A number of local political representatives visited the shopping village yesterday, including MP for the area Tom Elliott and DUP MLA Lord Morrow.
Both Mr Elliott and Lord Morrow said the flood could have been avoided and called for the Rivers Agency to investigate the issue.
Meanwhile, the Fire Service said that it rescued 26 people trapped because of the severe floods across Northern Ireland, particularly in counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.
The Glenfinn Park area of Strabane was the worst affected with 10 people rescued from their homes.