Derry families made homeless by floods spend Christmas in caravans
Almost 500 homes flooded in Northern Ireland during heavy rainfall last August
Jacqueline McCready pictured at her home at Dunvere Gardens in Eglinton. Photograph: Trevor McBride
Jacqueline McCready at her temporary home,a caravan at St Canices’s Park in Eglinton, Co Derry. Photograph: Trevor McBride
Jeanette and Alwyn Morrow and their Christmas tree. Photograph: Freya McClements
This year, Jeanette Morrow cooked a full Christmas dinner for five - in a caravan.
She and her husband Alwyn are among 11 families in Eglinton, Co Derry, who spent Christmas in mobile homes after their own houses were flooded in August.
“We had Christmas written off at the beginning, but then I said, you know what, you just have to get on with it.
“We’ve a wee Christmas tree up and everything, and that’s brightened things up a bit,” said Ms Morrow.
Almost 500 homes were flooded when two-thirds of the month’s average rainfall fell in just a few hours, closing more than 60 roads in Northern Ireland and leaving Derry City effectively cut off.
Four months on, work is continuing to repair the damage to roads and bridges, and the North’s Department of Infrastructure estimates the final bill will be about £10 million.
In Eglinton - one of the worst affected areas - a caravan park has been established to house those who are still unable to return home.
A temporary road has been created near the back of St Canice’s Park, and a flat area has been fenced off and covered with gravel.
Eleven caravans are arranged around the site, some with Christmas decorations hanging in the windows. Children’s bikes sit propped against one caravan; shared washers and dryers are in a hut near the entrance.
Like many of the residents, Patricia Logue must pass her own home at the front of the estate every time she goes into or out of the caravan park.
“Sometimes I turn and go to my own front door, and then I realise I’m not there any more, she explains.
“I just try and stay away. I go over the odd time and look but most of the time I stay away.”
After the flooding she and her husband spent eight weeks in their son’s apartment in Derry, then chose the caravan over a house in a different village.
“I didn’t care what it was as long as I was near home and I was near work,” she said. “The community’s good, it’s local people and your neighbours are all there, but I just don’t want to be the last one here.”
Her house is still being dried out, and she admits she “hasn’t a clue” when she’ll be able to return.
“I want my house done, I want back.
“I’m married 38 years but it took me years to get a real good kitchen, and I’d only had it in over a year, and my fireplace was only in a month, and then everything was destroyed, it was just terrible.”
This year Ms Logue, a care assistant, has chosen to work over Christmas.
“Normally I take Christmas off but this year I’m not in the mood for it.
“I’m used to putting up my wee tree and getting everything sorted, I love Christmas, but this year I’m just waiting to get it over.”
Among her neighbours in the caravan park is Jacqueline McCready. She spent time in student accommodation and an 18th century manor house that is now a peace and reconciliation centre before moving into the caravan.
She had to “abandon the downstairs” of her own home in Dunverne Gardens in Eglinton when the flooding started, and watched from the top of the stairs as water and raw sewage flooded her property.
Like others in the caravan park, she has been without insurance since minor flooding raised the premium and left her unable to afford it. Instead, her repairs have been paid for by family and friends.
“It’s only when something like this happens you find out who your real friends are,” she said.
“I was chatting to a friend of a friend and they were asking me how it was going and I said the next thing was putting down the wood floor, and he said, ‘I’ll do that for you’, he just volunteered, he didn’t ask for money.
“Local businesses have been great, one of them gave me two men for three days for free to put in my Ikea kitchen, it’s lovely.
“The house is all dried out, I have the floors down, and all I’m waiting on now is the doors and the skirting boards, and then the fixtures and fittings.”
“I try and go up and do a bit every day.
“Getting back home will be nice, but it has left me now with a fear every time it rains, and I keep watching the River Foyle.
“I don’t think I could take it if we were flooded again.”
It will be at least two months before the Morrows are able to return home.
They were in bed when the flooding started, and went downstairs to find the water already inside.
“We lost everything - albums, all the photos of the wains, ruined,” said Ms McCready. “Forty years of gathering everything up away in just 10 minutes.”
In their house the plastering has just been completed, but they’ve been told the walls won’t be dry enough to paint until March.
It has been a difficult few months for the Morrows. Jeanette has been in hospital, and in September her niece was knocked down and killed while walking home from an event to raise money for flood victims.