More rain in December than average winter, Met Éireann says

Residents along Shannon face further flooding as Harris says €8m for councils not enough

A channel has been dug as an emergency measure between Cahermore and Dunguaire, Kinvara to relieve flooding. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

More rain fell in December than would normally fall during a whole winter, breaking records at weather stations across the country, Met Éireann has said.

Residents along the River Shannon face further flooding as water levels downstream of Lough Derg reached 2009 levels.

Westmeath County Council said the water level in Athlone is now 4cm above the maximum level reached in 2009 and is putting increasing pressure on defences in the town and rural areas.

Twenty-three apartments at Bastian Quay in Athlone were evacuated on Sunday after the ESB cut power supplies for safety reasons. Other properties were evacuated at Carrickobrien and Golden Island. By Monday morning, 48 families were housed in temporary accommodation.

President Michael D Higgins visited areas of Galway and Wexford affected by flooding on Monday.

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris said options for flood prevention in up to 300 areas along the Shannon and elsewhere have been outlined.

In advance of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting on flood defences Mr Harris said the emerging strategy may include cleaning and maintenance of watercourses, grant aid for “flood gates” on individual houses, engineered flood defences around towns and even flooding used bogs.

The Minister was speaking after he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were briefed on the floods by the National Co-ordination Group.

Mr Harris said the full extent of damage to roads, culverts, bridges and property would not become apparent until flood waters subside. However, he said the €8 million initially allocated to local authorities by the Department of Environment would not be enough.

Athlone flooding

Situation as of Jan 3rd, 2016

Athlone floods as of Jan 3, 2016

Relatively dry day

Met Éireann meteorologist Gerald Flaming said the country was now starting to experience more normal weather patterns with a relatively dry day expected on Tuesday and about 15mm-20mm of rain expected on Wednesday – normal for this time of year.

But he said the recent rainfall was unprecedented and it remains to be seen how normal rain will affect flooding when it falls on saturated ground. Speaking at a National Co-ordination Group briefing, he also said that black ice on roads could become a problem as temperatures fall over the coming days.

OPW spokesman Jim Casey said the mid-Shannon catchment area continues to cause considerable concern with the water there at record levels. He added that Lough Derg and areas downstream are now at 2009 levels.

He said levels on the Erne and Moy rivers have also risen in the past 24 hours and that the Brosna, Barrow, Suir, Slaney, Nore, Munster Blackwater and Bandon rivers still pose a significant flood risk despite having fallen somewhat.

The AA said roads in Munster and Leinster continue to be worst affected with the N25 in Cork and the N18 Limerick to Galway road closed in parts. The N4 in Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim also remains closed.

“There are a huge amount of regional road closures in place,” a spokeswoman said, adding that drivers have been urged to adhere to road closed signs to avoid getting stranded in floodwaters.

Parteen Weir

The ESB said the flow of water through Parteen Weir will remain at 470 cubic metres per second on Monday and that the situation will be reviewed on Tuesday.

“The levels in Lough Derg may reach 2009 levels in the coming days and, as a result, the flow through Parteen Weir may increase up to those levels [up to 500 cumecs],” it said.

“This level of water flow will continue to have associated flooding to land and property in the vicinity of the Shannon downstream of Parteen Weir.”

Before the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, the Government will hear from different agencies involved in the River Shannon. Mr Harris said the Office of Public Works has identified 66 flood risk areas along the river and plans for each area should be in place before the summer.

Three funds offer assistance in cases of flooding: the €5 million Red Cross fund for businesses; the €10 million social protection fund for homeowners and the €8 million fund for local authority clean-up costs. With more than €6 million of that already drawn down, Mr Harris said it would “absolutely have to be increased”.

He added that the flooding will have caused significant damage to roads, culverts and bridges. However, the extent and cost of this damage will not be fully known until the waters recede.

Brendan McGrath from Galway City Council said efforts to control floodwaters and provide assistance to the public were ongoing, particularly in areas including Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny.

He said local authorities in Cork have dealt with 1,683 emergency calls since Christmas Day. Meanwhile, 1,736 members of the Defence Forces have been deployed since the flooding started.

As of Sunday, about 260 houses were affected by the flooding with a further 230 threatened. About 130 homes have been marooned and cut off.