Northwest floods: Cost of clean-up likely to run into millions

Politicians question the ‘preparedness’ of statutory bodies after storm devastation

People in Donegal have been warned to avoid all non-essential travel this morning after roads were washed away and a number of bridges collapsed during torrential rain yesterday. Video: Brian Hutton/ Barry Whyt/ Sinead Quigley

 

After a devastating night of thunderstorms caused havoc across the northwest, more than 100 people had to be rescued from cars and houses due to the flooding.

Authorities on both sides of the Border are now estimating the multimillion euro cost of the damage wreaked predominantly in counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.

Politicians were on Wednesday night raising questions about the state of preparedness of the statutory agencies to deal with the flash flooding.

However, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, Minister for State at the Office of Public Works , who travelled to Co Donegal on Wednesday night, rejected criticism from Fianna Fáil over the Government’s and OPW’s response to flooding threats, insisting his intervention had enabled important flood relief works to be sanctioned more promptly.

He confirmed he would be briefing the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach on the scale of damage to the region and expected an emergency relief fund would follow that process.

Earlier, local TD and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh had visited Burnfoot and Buncrana, and Minister for Transport Shane Ross arrived in the area on Wednesday night to assess damage to roads “first hand”.

Unprecedented scale

Officials from the North’s Department for Infrastructure and Donegal County Council described the scale of the flooding as “unprecedented”. Over nine hours almost two-thirds of the total rainfall for August fell across the northwest.

Firefighters were called out to rescue more than 90 people trapped in their vehicles and houses as a result of the severe flooding.

The coastguard, using helicopters from the Republic, Scotland and Wales, assisted in rescuing more than 30 people.

Police, ambulance crews and other rescue teams also worked through the night and into the morning.

No people were reported to have died or been seriously injured, but livestock were killed in the flooding. Declan McAleer, Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Tyrone, reported that a farmer in his area lost 76 sheep.

“Another farmer I spoke to who is in his 70s said that this was the worst rain he’d ever experienced in all his years of farming,” said Mr McAleer. “Furthermore, once you factor in damage to farm machinery and sheds, stores and feed, the result is financially catastrophic for many farmers.”

Surveying the damage

Across Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, bridges were badly damaged or collapsed in a number of areas; many roads were impassable due to flooding, dislodged tarmac and landslides; rivers overflowed or burst their banks; scores of cars had to be abandoned in the rising waters; houses and businesses were flooded; there was bus and rail disruption; and Derry airport was closed.

Some of the floodwater was contaminated by sewage that poured into homes. Scores of people were left homeless as a result of the flooding. A number of sporting amenities were also damaged. Beragh GAA ground was flooded, as were a number of other sporting amenities in the three affected counties.

Major clean-up operations were continuing on Wednesday night across the northwest.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, after meeting the interim head of the North’s civil service David Sterling, called for a “concerted multidepartmental response to the floods”.

“Clearly questions need to be answered about the state of preparedness and the response of some statutory agencies,” she said.

East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, of the DUP, said many people had suffered “frightening experiences” as a result of the flooding.

“Both businesses and residents will be counting the cost of the floods. It is essential that those affected receive help and support in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the scale of the damage was shocking. The Derry Assembly member said that families and businesses were struggling to cope and that there were “big questions for statutory agencies”.

“Where was the preparation?” he asked.