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Storm Francis: Newcastle homes awash after 15-minute deluge


Dozens of families have had to flee their homes after heavy downpours and high winds brought by Storm Francis left parts of Newcastle in Co Down resembling "a disaster zone".

And while Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon praised the multi-agency response to the flooding, the Department has been accused of being unprepared for the scale of the storm and damage caused to property.

Rescue crews from RNLI and the NI Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) had to move residents from their homes to safety after the River Shimna burst its banks, with the flood water submerging homes in three feet of water within 15 minutes.

Up to 300 homes are thought to have been affected and while he thanked the rescue services for their efforts in helping the victims of the flooding, South Down MP Chris Hazzard said there was growing anger amongst residents.

"My heart goes out to those who now find themselves - through no fault of their own - having to pick up the pieces after such widespread destructive flooding," he said.

"However, there is growing anger that authorities appeared to be so unprepared. Given the fact the Department of Infrastructure knew this storm was coming, why weren't they prepared in advance?

"Why were sandbags and other emergency equipment not on location yesterday? Instead, families were left scrambling when it was too late."

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Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Calling on the Department to support families, Mr Hazzard added: "I have asked the Minister to urgently review the existing Flood Alleviation measures in the town in light of two severe flooding incidents in the space of 12 years."

Ms Mallon visited Newcastle on Tuesday and praised the partnership working on the ground, adding a £6m flood alleviation scheme due to begin in summer 2021 will now be brought forward.

"Staff from my Department alongside other agencies remain on the ground distributing sandbags and providing assistance to property owners. They are ready to respond as necessary," she said.

"I have seen first-hand the hardship facing these families and while there's been a swift effort in partnership - sandbags have been delivered and we are working to help get things resolved - I recognise a longer term solution is required.

"That is why I am giving my commitment and assurance that the flood alleviation scheme will be delivered for this area as quickly as possible. My officials advise that we hope to have the scheme on the ground by summer 2021 but I am asking for that to be escalated to explore any options to get work brought forward."

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Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Homeowners affected by the flooding will be able to quickly access an emergency payment of £1,000.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who spent the day assisting residents, said the area looked like "a disaster zone".

"A number of streets are submerged under about three or four feet of water, there were cars abandoned and people who have had to be rescued from their homes," said Mr McGrath.

Newry and Mourne Council chairperson Laura Devlin said an emergency plan was in place to help those who will have to spend the night away from their homes.

"We have a rest centre set up in the Newcastle Centre for those who have had to vacate their homes," she said. "It was pretty scary throughout the morning, with the Bryansford Road and Marguerite Park areas very badly affected.

"The RNLI have done a great job in getting people to safety, coupled with the wonderful efforts of the other emergency services," she said. "The scenes were crazy."

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Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

Emergency services attend flooding near the Shimna River and at Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle

In a day of disruption across the country, NIFRS said it had responded to 49 flooding related calls between midnight and 5pm.

"NIFRS attended 28 flooding incidents across the Newcastle, Maghera, Draperstown and Cookstown areas," a spokesperson added,

"Working in challenging conditions, firefighters, with the support of other agencies, rescued 37 people from flood water. This included nine people from a house on the River Road in Draperstown, along with four people outside the property who were trying to provide assistance before the arrival of firefighters."

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Flooding at Black’s Road on the outskirts of Belfast

Flooding at Black’s Road on the outskirts of Belfast

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Flooding at Black’s Road on the outskirts of Belfast

On Strangford Lough, Portaferry RNLI came to the aid of two sailors whose yacht got into difficulty.

There was also significant flooding in Newry where the Fairy Glen river burst its banks.

"A lot of locals are saying it is the highest they have ever seen it," said independent councillor Mark Gibbons.

And a major clean up operation is also underway following a massive landside in the Slieveanorra area between Ballymoney and the Antrim Coast. Hundreds of tonnes of peat and soil came off the mountain and blocked the road.

A yellow weather warning brought in at midnight on Monday was due to end at 6am on Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph