Humanitarian assistance for Co Wexford residents affected by Christmas Day flooding

Multi-agency response as homeowners had to be rescued by emergency services

The Government has opened up its humanitarian assistance scheme for people impacted by the Christmas Day flooding in Co Wexford.

The commitment comes as a Co Wexford town experienced the worst flooding in 62 years as torrential rain struck the region.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said on Sunday evening that the Humanitarian Support Scheme for Small Business “will be opened if required in response to flooding in Wexford”.

He said on Twitter: “Department officials are currently engaging with the National Emergency Coordination Group.”

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Patrick O'Donovan visited Wexford on Sunday afternoon to see the damage that had been caused in Enniscorthy and Bridgetown.

He said: “This was an unprecedented amount of rainfall that caused so much damage yet again in Wexford.”

He said flood alleviation for communities – working with local authorities – is a priority for him.

“Residents in Bridgetown told me they had never seen anything like this happen before in their area, and for it to happen on Christmas Day is particularly heartbreaking for them and their children.”

Mr O’Donovan also told the Irish Times that the “OPW and Wexford County Council have been working on the development of a major flood relief  scheme for Enniscorthy which we are committed to delivering under our national investment programme CFRAM (Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management)”.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys confirmed that assistance would be made on Sunday morning saying: “As the clean-up operation begins, financial assistance will be provided to any household affected.”

She added: “I know this is a very difficult time for those impacted by this flooding incident.

“My officials are meeting with other agencies shortly and are on standby to support anyone who needs it.”

The Irish Times understands that at present the agencies involved in the response to the floods believe that there are about a dozen households affected.

People had to be rescued by the emergency services including the Waterford Airport based Sikorsky Irish Coast Guard Air and Sea Rescue 117 helicopter, Fethard-on-sea Coast Guard Unit, Kilmore Quay Coast Guard, Rosslare Coast Guard, Wexford Gardaí, Wexford Fire Service and the HSE.

Two casualties needed help in two separate locations by Rescue 117 advanced paramedics but no serious injuries were reported.

Former Fine Gael minister Paul Kehoe, who was in contact with Ms Humphreys this morning as he sought humanitarian assistance, said the county was hit with “biblical” levels of rainfall on Christmas Day that has seen roads and bridges damaged.

He said he is aware of three families in Enniscorthy that had to evacuate their homes when the Slaney burst its banks and he was among those that helped one elderly lady out of her home to stay with family members.

He said heavy rain was expected but not the prolonged nature of the torrential downpours praised the “quick reaction” from Wexford County Council in distributing sandbags.

Mr Kehoe said he has also sought funding for the local authority to repair damaged infrastructure.

Ms Humphreys said anyone with queries about the supports available can contact the Department of Social Protection at 087 985 9290 or by emailing kieran.dunne1@welfare.ie.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is the lead department for severe weather emergencies and the Office of Public Works (OPW) has responsibility for capital flood relief activities.

However, the Department of Social Protection has a role in assisting households in the immediate aftermath of severe weather events such as flooding under the humanitarian assistance scheme.

The purpose of the humanitarian assistance scheme is to prevent hardship by providing income-tested financial support to people whose homes are damaged from flooding and severe weather events and who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs, household items and in some instances structural repair.

Multi-agency response

A multi-agency response swung into action in Bridgetown, Co Wexford, when it became submerged as heavy rainfall hit the area from early morning. Many of the 462 population was affected.

The rescue was co-ordinated by Dublin Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre who said that Wexford was being “inundated” by flooding.

Local Civil Defence teams set up accommodation in a local community centre.

A spokesperson for the Irish Lifeboats said: “Our teams are just sitting down to Christmas Dinner having been tasked at 11.30am to respond to a report of serious flooding at Bridgetown.

“We assisted a number of people from flooded houses and cars, and assisted our colleague’s at Rescue 117 with a number of medical incidents. Awful conditions for the locals with extensive flooding.

“A long day with many people assisted. Well done to all the crews on scene.”

Minister for Housing Daragh O’Brien tweeted: “Very serious flooding in Wexford today and continuing to rain. Be very careful out there. Don’t drive through floods. Crews from Wexford County Council providing assistance to residents, affected homeowners & businesses. Government will provide whatever assistance is needed.”

A road along Chapel Station in Adamstown was completely washed away while Hodgesemill Road in Piercestown was impassable for most of the day.

Alan O’Reilly of Carlow Weather explained that a weather station in Mulrankin in Wexford recorded 91.4mm of rain on Christmas Day. “That is over a month’s rainfall in 16 hours with some awful flooding.”

Up to 73mm of rain was recorded at a weather station in Bunclody, Co Wexford The N80 was closed between Ballickmoyler and Graiguecullen for a time while the Portlaoise, the Old Derrig, Cutts and Joe’s Roads were also flooded.

Fianna Fáil TD James Brown pleaded with the public to careful if travelling and to “avoid journeys if at all possible. Council, Fire Brigade, Gardai and ambulance crews were all doing their best on Christmas Day dealing with the flooding. Sand bags were deployed as quickly as possible.”

Parts of Enniscorthy town also became impassable. Fianna Fáil councillor in Enniscorthy explained that a number of roads continue to be impassable in places.

“Wexford County Council crews, Enniscorthy fire brigade and Gardai were out throughout Christmas Day deploying sandbags to the worst affected areas. The Council was inundated with phone calls from people.”

Wexford County Council sent out warnings across social media platforms warning of flooded roads many of which became impassable at Castlebridge, Carcur in Wexford town, Carleys Bridge in Enniscorthy and scores of other locations, including flooding on the N25 at Barntown.

According to Wicklow County Council the M11 at Junctions 23/24 were closed in both directions due to flooding with diversions in place for several hours.

There were also reports of extensive flooding in parts of Carlow town and county with the R448 at the Royal Oak being badly affected. Knock Lane in Ballymurphy was closed for all of Christmas Day due to heavy flooding.

Traffic was reduced to a single lane at Church Hill in Hacketstown, Co Carlow following the collapse of a verge according to Carlow County Fire and Rescue Services.

Meanwhile, just before 11am on Christmas Day, Bangor RNLI was tasked by Belfast Coastguard along with the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland to assist two swimmers in difficulty at Helen’s Bay.

When the RNLI volunteer crew arrived on the scene, there was one swimmer still in the water, and two of our crew jumped in to rescue the casualty.

Conditions were very poor, so we would ask all sea swimmers to assess the conditions before entering the water.

A RNLI spokesperson said: “The casualties in this case were only 15 metres or so from the beach, but against a strong offshore wind they tired quickly.

“Our thanks to our crew John Bell, Ewan Rathbone-Scott, Gavin Mitchell and Johnny Gedge, who provided exceptional care in very trying circumstances. Without their commitment and training, two local families would be facing a very different Christmas.

“If you are planning to swim over the Christmas and New Year periods, please take extra care.”