Sandbags protect homes as Shannon flood waters increase
Flood waters on the Shannon have increased 4cm in the Athlone area but sandbag defences have protected most homes along the town centre riverbank.
Up to 100 homes are at risk, mainly in the Deerpark and Strand areas, with the water expected to keep rising over the weekend with more rain forecast.
Met Eireann has issued an orange alert for 30-50mm of rain on Saturday in the south, south-west and Midlands, compounding the saturated conditions but a calmer forecast than had been feared.
Further downstream, from Lough Derg to Limerick, the Office of Public Works (OPW) expects floods to peak on Sunday and Monday.
"The key message is the river levels are still rising in the mid to lower catchment and there are small rises in the upper catchment area around Carrick-on-Shannon," spokesman Jim Casey said.
Emergency clinics for people to access welfare funds have been set up in Ballinasloe and Crossmolina, Co Mayo, with up to 100 people seeking immediate support, while others are ready to open in other affected areas such as Athlone.
The National Coordination Group (NCG), which is overseeing the emergency flood response and warnings, said householders in most areas still had the choice to stay in their homes.
The OPW said all its gauges on the Shannon system showed increases in the 24 hours to lunchtime on Friday - up to 5cm in the mid-catchment and around Athone and 2.5cm below Lough Derg.
Mr Casey added: "It's a small reduction in the rate of the rise in the past 24 hours on the previous 24 hours."
The NCG is also using satellite-generated maps from the European Copernicus project which are identifying flood hit and flood risk areas.
Councils have been asked to convene flood assessments and pinpoint vulnerable areas in advance of the next weather system.
On the Lee in Cork, the river is described as bank-full and some local flooding has already occurred on stretches from Inniscarra to the city.
In Northern Ireland, dozens of roads were closed because of localised floods with the level of Lough Erne high and likely to remain at those levels for a week.
Road users have been warned about safety concerns with the co-ordination group urging people not to walk unaided through floods, be aware of shifting manhole covers and be conscious of the risks from sewage, household oil and other pollutants in the waters.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said the continued rain will create potentially hazardous conditions.
Farmers have been warned to get assistance and advice when trying to move animals cut off by floods - thousands of acres along the Shannon are underwater.
Some of those worst-hit rural areas were downstream from the Parteen weir where the ESB has released five times the normal amount of water into the old Shannon system.
The company has warned it will likely increase the flow of 375 cumecs - cubic metres per second - in coming days.
The impact will hit hundreds of acres next to the Clare and Limerick border and scores of isolated and rural homes, a number of which have already been evacuated after being cut off.
The extent of the floods is expected to exceed 2009 and is also being classed as a worst in 20-year event.
Evelyn Cusack, senior forecaster with Met Eireann, said r elative to Storm Desmond, this weekend's weather system is considered normal for this time of year.
Some snow is forecast for northern counties on Saturday and on some high ground, but flood-hit areas across the Midlands may also experience an hour or two of wintry showers in the morning.
"The outlook for next week is more of the normal type weather coming in from the Atlantic with further rain at times," Ms Cusack said.
Elsewhere, a boil water notice for Ballinasloe, put in place after a local treatment plant was inundated, is expected to be lifted next week.