Stormont’s infrastructure minister has defended his department as he visited residents and business owners affected by flooding in the North West.
John O’Dowd visited dozens of homes and commercial premises in Drumahoe and Eglinton where 70mm of rain fell in just a few hours on Saturday.
Around 40 homes are known to have internally flooded with as many as 300 undergoing assessment to determine if they were impacted.
Councillors had criticised Mr O’Dowd’s Stormont department, claiming it had been too slow in responding to the heavy rainfall, while residents had slammed the lack of movement on flood alleviation scheme.
“I understand this is devastating for those who have had their homes and personal property damaged and especially those who have been impacted by previous flooding events,” Mr O’Dowd said.
“Witnessing and hearing accounts first hand of the consequences the flooding has had on families and livelihoods is truly heart-breaking.
“I would like to thank everyone who came together to assist with the clear up and who provided food and shelter to the communities which were most badly impacted.
“Very high levels of rain fell in a short period of time on Saturday and my Department remained on full alert working with multi agency partners over the weekend to protect properties through the distribution of over 8,000 sandbags and the maintenance of critical drainage infrastructure.
The Sinn Fein MLA said DfI staff work alongside multi agency partners in the Regional Community Resilience Group (RCRG) the Roads and Rivers team to do all they can to support the community during severe weather events.
However, he warned that a climate emergency is unfolding which increases the likelihood of more extreme weather causing damage to homes and businesses.
“I also fully recognise the need to introduce longer term solutions as swiftly as possible to reduce the impacts of further flooding,” Mr O’Dowd said.
“That is why my Department is taking forward a number of Flood Alleviation Schemes across the north.
“We are currently progressing proposals for three specific schemes in Drumahoe, Eglinton and Derry City.”
The minister said ground investigation works have already been completed at Eglinton and Drumhoe.
It’s being conducted to aid design development and will be used to determine the type of defence that can be constructed at each location.
“Significant progress is being made and subject to being able to demonstrate economic viability and affordability, it is intended that these schemes could then progress via design and procurement exercises to appoint contractors for the works,” Mr O’Dowd explained.
“In addition, the Department’s Living With Water Programme has commenced work on a draft Strategic Drainage Integrated Plan (SDIP) for Derry.
"This will consider a longer term 10-year drainage plan for the city and involves a range of partners and stakeholders across all areas of government.
“I have already given my commitment to bring forward improvements in the Ballycolman estate, Strabane with a short term solution being actively progressed in conjunction with Derry City and Strabane District Council.
“I will also continue to progress a longer term solution for Ballycolman which is dependent on the provision of a new sewer required to serve the proposed housing development at the old Adria site, with timing subject to the developer’s programme.
“As our weather continues to become more unpredictable I would urge everyone to be mindful of weather warnings and watch carefully on news bulletins and social media for regular updates. Please do not take any unnecessary risks in bad weather.”
However, SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has slammed "a lack of support” for businesses in the north west.
He’s revealed he contacted communities minister Deidre Hargey to establish what emergency funding was available to help flood victims.
The Foyle representative was shocked to find out that no financial assistance was available because a previous scheme had expired.
“I was surprised to learn that the Executive currently has no provision to help businesses impacted in such circumstances,” Mr Durkhan said.
“That a previous scheme to provide support was not extended by the Executive seems like a significant oversight that has left business owners completely in the lurch, they are not even able to avail of the modest support that is being offered to homeowners.
“While thankfully these businesses will be insured, it can take months before a payout is received and many face significant short-term costs to get up and running again.
“With no assistance on offer this will add further pressure onto many businesses at what is already a very difficult time.
“Previously in exceptional circumstances such as fires and flooding we have seen government support for those affected, even at times when the Executive has not been sitting.
“I am deeply disappointed by this response from the Department for Communities, which shows a complete detachment from the challenges facing businesses as a result of this flooding and I will continue to lobby for support both now and in the future, to ensure that our businesses never end up abandoned in this way again.”