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Flood chaos: families pick up the pieces

By Claire McNeilly

Farmers across the country were beginning last night to look at the cost of the freak weather conditions on their livelihoods.

Hundreds of acres of fields were still under water after rivers across the province burst their banks and the torrid water ravaged everything— including crops, plants and soil —in its path.

Animals were spared no less, with hundreds of cows, sheep and lambs thought to have been killed by the weather over just two days.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Graham Furey, president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said it was too early to put a monetary value on the damage.

“A certain number of individuals have been badly hurt by the flooding,” he said.

“We can’t put a value on the damage at the minute. We don’t know exactly how many hundreds of acres of crops are underwater. But the number of livestock killed is running into a couple of hundred at least.”

One farmer in Hilltown watched helplessly as 16 acres of potatoes were submerged under five feet of dirty, moving water that was “flowing hard”, according to Mr Furey, who said the damage could amount to £60,000.

In other areas, farmers lost barley as well as cows and lambs. In Hilltown, a dead sheep was discovered up a tree. On Sunday night, a farmer in Saintfield lost 50 lambs out at field.

Although Environment Minister Sammy Wilson yesterday called for a compensation package for houses damaged by the flood, there has been no mention of a similar package for the farming community. But Mr Furey said something had to be done.

“Farmers are shell-shocked at the amount of damage causing by moving water. The common comment I’ve been hearing is that no-one has ever seen a flood like it, except maybe once in the last 40 years or so, and even then it was in the middle of winter,” he said.

“The force of the water and its speed created a lot of damage to fields. It took soil, plants and potatoes with it and some farmers even found fish in drills afterwards. It was surreal .”

He added: “Farmers have asked about compensation and that’s something we’re going to be looking into immediately.”

Sinn Féin Agriculture spokesperson Pat Doherty MP MLA visited a number of farms affected by the flooding.

“This flooding will cause genuine hardship for farmers who have lost crops or livestock and affect key farm projects such as the need to finish building slurry tanks by the end of year deadline,” he said.

‘We’ve lost everything. We feel so helpless’

A heartbroken pensioner last night spoke of his distress after he returned from a short trip to discover he had lost his home during the severe flooding at the weekend.

Walter Flaherty (67) was still trying to pick up the pieces yesterday after his terraced house was ravaged in the treacherous weather conditions which saw a month’s rain fall in just a few hours.

And he described how his distraught wife, Ellen (64), was stranded, alone, upstairs for several hours before being rescued by their son, as filthy water poured into their property, reaching 5ft at the height of the storm.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Flaherty, who lives at Meadowside, Dublin Road, in Antrim, said the damage to their house — and car, which was also flooded — had run into thousands of pounds.

“We don’t know what we are going to do. We have lost everything. Ellen has been sweeping and trying to clean up the house but we feel so helpless. We don’t know where we are.

“We were in the process of changing our insurance company, so we won’t get any money back for damage to the house contents. And the car is probably a write-off,” he said.

Mr Flaherty, a retired welder, described his wife’s terror when she awoke in the early hours of Saturday to find that the downstairs of their home was completely underwater.

“I was in England staying with one of our sons so Ellen was alone in the house,” he said.

“She had gone to bed and woke up when she heard noises. She heard shouts from next door and went to the bathroom window to find out what was going on when she realised she couldn’t get downstairs. People were being taken out of the estate in boats. But she was stuck in the house from about 3.45am until after 7am, when our son Alan climbed in the window to help. She then had to wade through brown, stinking water that was up to her chest to get out.”

The father-of-four said that a number of properties in the estate — including his 93-year-old father’s house — had been severely affected by the deluge after the Six Mile Water river that runs nearby, burst its banks.

“Our house is uninhabitable,” he said.

“Everything was destroyed. All our papers are gone. All the clothes in the hotpress were ruined. All the furniture was floating around in the water, the kitchen appliances and work surfaces were all destroyed and the wooden floorboards have all sprung. It’s a disaster.

“We have been staying in a hotel while we wait for the Housing Executive to rehouse us. But we’ve been told we’re only entitled to a one-bedroom flat despite explaining that two of our sons are at university and have no income.

“Mark (29), a mature student, is due home from Strathclyde University today and we have nowhere for him to stay. The Housing Executive has said he is an adult, and therefore not a dependant, but we pay for his accommodation when he is at university. We don’t know what we are going to do.”

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson said that while he recognised the limitations of the Government’s compensation package, he hoped it would go some way towards helping householders get back on their feet.

“When you look at the scale of damage in people’s houses I accept that £1,000 is a small amount of money,” he said.

“It’s not meant to be an alternative to insurance. It’s really designed to help people get back on their feet and to bring some semblance of normality to houses.”

Belfast Telegraph


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