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£1m flood defence is a 'washout'

By Linda Stewart

The water may have subsided but the misery for residents in the flood-hit Lower Ormeau goes on.

Nine children have fallen ill with stomach bugs and diarrhoea since torrential rain brought flooding to the area less than two weeks ago.

Now residents are demanding to know why a £1m scheme to avoid flooding in the south Belfast area did not do its job.

Parts of the area were not cleaned up until two days after the waters rose, residents insist.

Traffic came to a standstill earlier this month as areas of the Lower Ormeau, Ravenhill Road, Loopland Drive, Castlereagh Road, River Terrace, Tomb Street and the Knock dual carriageway were flooded.

Residents have expressed frustration that despite investing £1m in flood alleviation measures at River Terrace, NI Water has been unable to halt the now regular flooding incidents.

In 2002, the company replaced four 70-year-old fixed speed pumps with up-to-date variable speed units and associated controls, increased the capacity of the sewer at River Terrace between Cooke Place and the pumping station and installed an emergency gravity overflow to the River Lagan.

This work was undertaken in the knowledge that the Belfast Sewers Project would be implemented and that on completion, the River Terrace pumping station would no longer be required.

“The additional sewerage capacity in River Terrace is of lasting benefit as it will provide a freer flowing path to the tunnel,” NI Water said.

But Cornelia McCloskey, playgroup leader at Riverside Early Years Centre in the Lower Ormeau, said the area is still flooding at times of heavy rainfall and has sparked a wave of illness among children.

At least nine have fallen prey to stomach aches and diarrhoea since River Terrace was flooded recently, she said.

Some clean-up efforts were carried out after the floodwaters rose on Friday night but had to be abandoned due to lack of light.

“We haven’t seen flies in ages, but the flies are terrible now — there are germs spreading everywhere,” she said.

“With children, you know their hands are never out of their mouths and they’re touching things that you haven’t got around to cleaning.

“I don’t think there is a child in that that flood area that hasn’t got diarrhoea at some point. My three grandchildren got it

“A few of the children at the centre had to be carried through the water on Friday but they still got it on them. At least nine that I know of have fallen ill this week.”

She said it took several days for the clean-up to be completed. “To me, the grass at the centre is still contaminated. I’m very iffy about letting the children out to play,” she said.

“We’ve had no information on how long it takes to grade into the grass, though I have heard it’s longer in autumn and winter because of the cold and damp.

“We do have path areas to keep them on but it’s very difficult to keep them off the grass.

“We’ve had no contact from Northern Ireland Water. There has been no information given on how long you should keep the children in or what precautions to take. Nobody came to my house on Saturday, nobody came on Sunday.

“It’s a long time for people to be coming in and out of their houses and the children are running around, they’re on the bikes and the water is splashing their backs.

“That is what our children are living in every couple of months.”

SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy said the clean-up effort on the day of the flooding did not lack manpower but that suitable equipment was in short supply.

“They were walking about with containers of disinfectant, throwing it around and throwing water onto it — it was totally ineffective,” he said.

“What was needed was a tanker full of disinfectant to be put down. Once the sewage had been lifted they should have hosed the whole street.”

Councillor McCarthy was also angered that no senior executives from Northern Ireland Water attended an inter-agency meeting at Lower Ormeau to discuss the problem.

“There are people here who can’t get their houses insured, so what do they do with £1,000 — it’s no use to you,” he said.

“What would be more cost effective if the authorities had purchased a load of floodgates and given them out to people.”

Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey branded the pumping system a “sticking plaster job” and said he would be asking the Public Accounts Committee to adjudicate on whether it was good value for money.

Northern Ireland Water said it first received a call about flooding in the River Terrace area at about 3.30pm on October 9 and were on site at 4.15pm and its Interim Director of Operations and Director of Customer Services visited the site on numerous occasions.

“NI Water staff and its contractors commenced clean up and disinfectant immediately the alert was raised on Friday afternoon and, due to bad light, this was

suspended at 10.30pm on Friday night,” a spokeswoman said.

“This then resumed on Saturday at 8.30am until late that evening. During this clean up, NI Water liaised with local representatives and they were satisfied with the clear up.

“On Saturday, NI Water had 12 contract staff at Cooke Street and River Terrace along with NI Water staff and two at Carrington Street.

“More disinfectant was applied at the surrounding area of 8 Cooke Street on Saturday evening in response to complaints of malodour lingering in the air.

“NI Water contractors also flushed the gullies in the area.

“A NI Water representative on site reported that the local representative and Environmental Health Officer were satisfied with the clear up operation.

“Clean-up and disinfection of all affected areas was complete by 21.30pm on Saturday. NI Water representatives were on site again on Sunday.

“NI Water’s Director of Customer Services visited the residents at River Terrace on Tuesday to discuss their concerns.”

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