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Sand bags don’t cut it - fix this mess, say residents after floods wreck homes

People want legal issues resolved to protect their houses in the future


Emma Relf whose home was flooded

Emma Relf whose home was flooded

Emma Relf whose home was flooded

People living in housing estates repeatedly hit by flooding in Strabane have called on the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and local council to resolve legal issues in order to protect homes.

Independent councillor for Strabane, Paul Gallagher, said plans to redirect water into a nearby sports arena would at least “reduce fear” for residents who are having to spend thousands of pounds on repairs again.

In excess of 400 homes have registered with Derry City & Strabane District Council for an emergency flood scheme.

On Wednesday, the buzzing of de-humidifiers could be heard along a row of homes in the Ballycolman estate as people desperately attempted to dry their properties.

In each property the smell of damp and — in some cases — raw sewage hung in the air.

Emma Relf told the Belfast Telegraph that within minutes on Saturday her house was inundated by floodwater from the front and back. A newly fitted £6,000 kitchen was ruined, along with a fireplace, doors, floors and appliances.

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She has lived in the Ballycolman estate for 24 years and been flooded on three previous occasions — June and August 2020, a “very near miss” in August 2021 — before the latest event at the weekend.

On Tuesday, Ms Relf challenged Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd over the lack of action by his department and insisted that he come back in a month’s time with answers.

“Sand bags don’t cut it,” she said. “We had the Minister here and to be totally honest we’re just fed up with it. I really do not think anywhere else would tolerate this.

“Because he can’t guarantee funding and he doesn’t know whether agreement between the two solicitors can be reached.

“So, where does that leave us then?”

Living under the constant threat of flooding has forced her to consider leaving a community she loves. 

“My daughter wants me to leave the house. She said, ‘Enough’s enough mammy — move’.

“But I’m here 24 years, I don’t want to move. Some of my neighbours are here 50 years. We have the best wee community but I’m beginning to think to myself, how many times?

“Monetary value is one thing, but when you see the emotional trauma of this, that’s something else.”

A few doors up Maria Duffy is in her living room where the wooden floor has been torn out due to water damage. The bare concrete floor has asbestos in it, she said.

Her home has also been flooded three times but this was the worst. “I just don’t know what to think, I don’t know how to explain it to tell you the truth or I’ll start crying,” she said.

Stress levels are compounded by the search for insurance cover which proved near impossible after the last flood.

“If we could get flood gates, anything at all to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Ms Duffy added.

Damage wasn’t restricted to Ballycolman. A mile away at Patterson Park, Carmel Conwell and Cynthia Mullen had raw sewage in their properties.

“I’ve had bother with the drains for years with people passing me from pillar to post,” Ms Conwell explained.

Ms Mullen said as a wave of water ran down the street, a wall in front of her house acted as a dam for a short period. But before long water was rushing through her letterbox.

“The drains aren’t fit for purpose, there’s something badly wrong.”

DfI is working with Derry City & Strabane District Council to get “final legal agreements” in place for a short-term option to alleviate flooding in the Ballycolman estate.

It involves re-shaping the road in front of the affected properties so that excess flood water is directed away from the houses and temporarily deposited onto lands owned by council at the Melvin Arena. The council previously gave approval to assist DfI in the delivery of the short-term flood alleviation scheme.

A spokesperson said council officers are working with DfI to complete the necessary licence agreement as quickly as possible and insisted “there is no dispute holding up this process”.

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