Belfast Telegraph

We must be better prepared for our extreme weather

Editor's Viewpoint

When 63% of a normal month's rainfall pours out of the sky in eight hours, it is inevitable that severe damage and threat to life will follow. That was the scenario in parts of Northern Ireland on Wednesday night and it is indeed fortunate that no fatalities or serious injuries were reported.

That was due in large part in the first instance to luck and later to the heroic work of the emergency services who braved atrocious conditions to rescue more than 100 people trapped by rising flood waters.

Such was the fury of the storm that no amount of pre-planning would have totally mitigated its effects, but questions nevertheless arise of just how much advance planning did take place.

There were few warnings of the severity of the approaching storm coming in from the Atlantic and the sheer scale of the flooding and the damage to roads and bridges suggest that our infrastructure is in poor condition in many areas.

It is also alarming that so many residential homes were flooded. Surely the ability of areas to cope with flash flooding should be a fundamental part of the planning process when permission for developments is being sought.

Even simple measures like ensuring gullies are kept clean and that drainage pipes have sufficient capacity would help prevent flooding in some areas. Instead budget cuts mean such work is only carried out on an annual basis, an appalling situation given the waste in public spending here.

In all of this we must not overlook the human cost of such storms. Firstly no praise is too high for the firefighters, police officers, coastguards, electricity workers, council and government departmental staff who went out in the teeth of the storm to save lives and restore what services they could.

Today the waters may have receded and most people will be going about their everyday tasks, but for others there will be weeks and months of distress. The immediate task will be to clean their properties from the detritus left behind by the floodwaters and then to dry them out which could take a considerable time.

There will be wrangles over insurance payments and the decision to give affected householders an immediate £1,000 from the public purse is a welcome gesture at a time of need, but it will not stretch far.

Extreme weather is becoming more common and it is time that proper long-term plans are laid to cope with it.

Belfast Telegraph

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