Cowen visits flood areas as further rainfall predicted

Mon, Nov 23, 2009, 00:00

Taoiseach Brian Cowen visited some areas of the south and west most severely affected by flooding today, as emergency crews were put on 24-hour alert across Limerick and Clare.

Earlier today, Mr Cowen travelled to Clonmel and Cork this morning to see first-hand the damage caused by the worst flooding to hit the country in several decades.

Water supplies to about 80,000 people in Cork city are unlikely to be restored for at least a week after the flooding caused extensive damage to the city’s main pumping station. Mr Cowen said the immediate focus was to get essential water supplies restored to those affected in Cork and other areas.

Speaking in Cork following a meeting with Cork city and council managers, Mr Cowen did not rule out the possibility of financial aid packages being made available to those who had suffered flood-related damages, saying the issue would be discussed at Cabinet tomorrow.

"The concentration has to be on dealing with the immediate package that people have - there are insurance issues that will have to dealt with in the normal way of course, and Government will meet tomorrow having assessed the total impact of what's happening, what issues are emerging and seeing what way we can help," Mr Cowen said.

"In the past we have been able to see what assistance can be given at a humanitarian basis where extreme hardship arises."

The Taoiseach commended public sector workers who had averted their planned industrial action tomorrow and others who were dealing with the effects of the flooding.

"I think a huge effort is being made [getting water to people in Cork city] . . . and I think the co-ordination team are doing a great job, to provide drinking water in the first instance . . . and now the identification of over 40 locations for the provision of sanitation water to be used for those purposes," he said.

The Taoiseach toured a number of buildings in Cork city worst affected, including Cork County Hall and the Mercy hospital, and is due to visit Ennis and Ballinasloe later today.

Mr Cowen said the Office of Public Works was dealing with the wider issue of flood relief schemes and defended investment in these longer-term schemes.

Meanwhile, the ESB said parts of counties Clare and Limerick faced further flood damage today.

“Exceptional flooding along the River Shannon - the highest on record - requires ESB to increase the amount of water that must be released at Parteen Weir,” the ESB said. “The discharge levels have been growing in recent days but the release of higher volumes of water downstream will become unavoidable later today. Localised downstream areas can expect higher flood levels as a result.”

The Parteen Weir controls the flow of water into Ardnacrusha power station further downstream. Councils in Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary and local emergency services warned areas from Parteen downstream to Limerick city faced further floods later today.

Councils warned Montpellier, Castleconnell, O’Briensbridge, Clonlara, Westbury and Shannon Banks were expected to bear the brunt.

Council staff, fire and rescue units, the ESB, Army, health workers, gardai and the Civil Defence were called in across the lower Shannon area on 24-hour stand-by.

Large parts of the south and west remain on high alert, with further heavy rain expected to spread from the Atlantic overnight.

The Irish Nurses' Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses' Association said they have agreed to exclude Cork City hospitals and Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, from planned industrial action tomorrow because of the effects of the extreme weather conditions.

Most national roads will be open to traffic today but a number of routes remain impassable.

According to gardaí, a number of roads in Cork have reopened to traffic. However some routes remain closed, including the R579, linking Leemount Cross to the N22; and the bridge at the Inniscarra Bar, from the R 618, to Ballincollig.

In Co Galway, water levels are still high in Ballinasloe, Claregalway, Abbeyknockmoy, Craughwell, Gort and many smaller villages in the east, north and south of the county, while storm-force winds lashed coastal areas yesterday, causing some structural damage.

Flooding has closed the Ferry Bridge on the N65 in Portumna, the Athenry to Loughrea Road (R349), and the N17 Galway/Tuam Road at Claregalway.

In Limerick, the R525 Castleconnell to Montpelier-O’Briensbridge Road, near the railway bridge, has been closed due to flooding. Motorists are advised to divert via the R466 Montpelier to Birdhill road, Limerick County Council said.

The Army said today some 227 personnel and 26 vehicles are deployed in Cork, Ennis, Galway and Ballinasloe and are providing emergency assistance to civil authorities for flood relief.

Up to 150 soldiers have been delivering drinking and sanitary water to 22 areas of north Cork city along four routes.

A spokesman said Army personnel are continuing to provide manpower and mobility in the affected areas with trucks and sandbags to business people and home owners.

More than Army 800 personnel have been deployed to assist to local authorities since the severe flooding hit last week.

The Government's emergency task force briefed the Cabinet yesterday on its plan to deal with the crisis. The task force had met earlier in the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Agriculture House on Kildare Street. The ESB, Met Éireann, An Garda Síochána, Defence Forces, Office of Public Works, HSE, Coast Guard and various Government departments were represented.

Unions representing local authority workers in counties Cork, Clare and Galway, and some hospital staff in Cork, have agreed to defer industrial action to work on recovery efforts. It is understood additional staff, such as community welfare officers, could also be exempted from strike action.

The Irish Farmers’ Association president Padraig Walshe criticised the Government’s flood prevention plan, calling for a return to the old practice of regularly clearing rivers and streams.

“Spending millions of euro on flood defences will only protect the town where they are built, and will push the problem downstream to other towns and rural areas,” Mr Walshe said.

According to Met Éireann, rain in the south and southwest will clear this morning, with bright spells and scattered showers. However, further rain is forecast to spread from the Atlantic overnight, with strengthening southwest winds.

Met Éireann said many places in the State have already had one-and-a-half to two times the normal rainfall for the entire month. According to its head of forecasting, Gerald Fleming, the receding flood waters had the potential to cause renewed flooding downstream. He said this and high winds and waves threatening coastal areas were the immediate danger over the next few days.

Tomorrow will be mild and very windy with scattered outbreaks of rain, heavy at times, while the outlook for Wednesday and Thursday was for cool and windy weather with sunny spells and scattered rain or hail showers.

Last Thursday was, in many places, the wettest day of the month, with Valentia Observatory recording 57.4mm, Cork Airport recording 51.2mm, and many other places registering in excess of 30mm of rainfall.

Eircom said crews worked throughout the weekend to restore telephone and broadband service to areas of the country hit by heavy flooding. Service has now been restored to all of the Eircom exchanges that were flooded with the exception of 200 customers in the Bandon area who are currently experiencing loss of service.

The Irish Coast Guard today repeated its warning to members of the public to avoid exposed coasts, cliffs, piers and promenades. A spokesman said the combination of tides, forecasted gales warnings for later this week, high sea conditions and swollen rivers may result in very dangerous conditions.

Iarnrod Éireann said bus transfers are operating between Galway and Athlone due to flooding between Ballinasloe and Athlone. It said bus transfers between Longford and Carrick-on-Shannon are expected to continue for remainder of the week.

The Limerick to Ennis rail line is closed today due to a landslide, while the line between Arklow and Gorey remains closed for embankment strengthening. All other routes are operating normally.