Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland flood havoc sparks calls for major spending on infrastructure

By Donna Deeney

The authorities' response to severe flooding that devastated parts of Northern Ireland is facing mounting criticism amid claims that major investment is needed in infrastructure west of the Bann.

Counties Londonderry and Tyrone bore the brunt of heavy rainfall on Tuesday night.

Roads and bridges collapsed, cars were washed away and homes and businesses destroyed in the violent storm.

Almost 100 people had to be rescued, some taken from their homes by boat after being trapped by the water.

At one point the Fire Service got an emergency call every 45 seconds.

The Met Office said 63% of the average August rainfall fell within an eight-to-nine-hour period.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said the flooding was "a disaster waiting to happen", blaming a lack of investment in the north west's infrastructure.

"I think that action could have been taken earlier to deal with what was an unprecedented situation," he said.

"I commend the people who were out all night working but while we can't go back in time and do it earlier, we need to look and see if things could have been put in place earlier.

"The thing is we will see that amount of rain again.

"There is a need for massive infrastructure investment but we also need to look at things like gully cleaning, which has been reduced to once a year because of cutbacks to maintenance budgets.

"What happened here was a disaster waiting to happen and is a disaster that will be repeated if there isn't investment."

The Department for Communities has agreed an emergency payment of £1,000 for those impacted by the flooding.

However, many affected questioned how far it will go.

Cathy Doherty, whose elderly parents live in Eglinton, said: "We are at our wits' end and can't get through to any of the statutory agencies. A note saying we can get £1,000 was put in my parents' letterbox, but £1,000 wouldn't cover the cost of the bleach it is going to take to get their house clean."

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill is pressing for a concerted multi-departmental response.

"The scale of the damage caused by the floods is shocking and my thoughts are with all those affected," she said.

"Thankfully, no lives have been lost and I want to commend the actions of the emergency services, local residents and activists who worked through the night to protect lives and property.

"Clearly questions need to be answered about the state of preparedness and the response of some statutory agencies.

"People are also beginning the long process of cleaning up and rebuilding and we need to ensure every possible assistance is provided to them.

"That will require a robust and concerted approach across several different government departments."

More than 100 people had to be rescued from vehicles caught in flash floods on Tuesday night.

Firefighters saved 93, with the Coastguard helping dozens of others.

Police and ambulance crews and search and rescue teams were also involved in the response. Downpours swept in from the Atlantic, hitting Co Donegal on Tuesday afternoon before moving eastwards. Firefighters responded to 85 flooding incidents on Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Walmsley said his staff worked in extremely challenging circumstances to reach people hit by the flooding.

After a multi-agency emergency meeting, the Department for Infrastructure, Fire Service, PSNI and Derry and Strabane Council asked people to take care travelling in the north west.

A spokesman said: "As the flooding clean-up operation continues, hundreds of staff from across the agencies are working with local communities to reopen roads, pump water and clean up residential homes and business properties."

Belfast Telegraph

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