Flood areas braced for another bruising week that nightmare is not over for victims
By Breda Heffernan, Aidan O'Connor and Aine Kerr
Saturday November 28 2009
THE nightmare is set to continue for people living in flood-hit areas who were last night warned to be "extremely vigilant" as high tides are expected next week.
The grim news comes as many parts of the country are already balanced on a knife-edge, particularly in Galway, Athlone, the Midlands, Ennis and the lower Shannon area.
The weather is set to enter a cold snap with temperatures tumbling below zero after nightfall with the chance of wintry showers.
Environment Minister John Gormley predicted flood-stricken areas could be in for another bruising week. While rainfall has abated, there will be an increase in tide levels and these, mixed with high winds, could pose major risks for the Limerick and Shannon banks areas.
"Next week is a time of extreme vigilance. I'm hoping that we can avert the problems we saw last week," he added.
National Emergency Response Committee chairman Sean Hogan said last night that areas around the Shannon remain the worst affected and "no early end to the current problems are in sight".
"There hasn't been any significant change in the heights of the lakes, Lough Derg and Lough Ree. Even with good weather conditions where rain has ceased, it could take up to three weeks for normal water levels to return to the Shannon catchment area," he warned.
Both lakes are already up to 1.5 metres above normal levels for this time of year. Mr Hogan said the committee's particular focus over the next five days will be on the Shannon Estuary, Limerick and its environs with high tides due to hit from the middle of next week.
Homeowners and business people in Limerick face an anxious few days as water levels on the Shannon are expected to rise by as much as one metre. They have called for hourly updates on discharge rates at Parteen Weir.
The ESB said last night that it would continue to maintain the same rate of discharge from the weir but that the situation was under constant review. It added that while the level of water in Lough Derg had risen by 1cm in the previous 24 hours, the rate of increase was slowing.
A precautionary boil notice affecting about 2,000 customers was issued by Limerick County Council yesterday.
It affects households connected to the South West Regional Water Supply and the Feohanagh/Castlemahon Group Water Scheme.
In Co Galway, where about 3,000 farms are under water, the Irish Farmers' Association began its distribution of emergency fodder to the worst-hit farms surrounding Gort, Ballinasloe and Banagher.
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith yesterday announced a �2m fodder aid scheme for farmers affected by the floods. Farmers will have to show that fodder, whether silage, hay or concentrates, was damaged due to the recent flooding.
"It is important that the funds made available by the Government are paid as quickly as possible. I therefore encourage only those farmers who are directly affected to complete and submit the application without delay," said the minister.
Forms are available from the Department of Agriculture's website, local offices and from Teagasc offices and must be returned before December 11.
Meanwhile, 67 soldiers are involved in various flood operations. Troops in Athlone yesterday bussed residents from Clonbunny in Co Westmeath to Athlone to allow them to get shopping.
Westmeath County Council said it had distributed 20,000 sandbags to help stem the flow of flood waters.
Flood levels in Co Leitrim receded slightly yesterday, while in Roscommon, council staff built up more than 1km of roadway in the south of the county to allow residents to get to their homes.
Mr Hogan said that between 500-600 families have been forced to evacuate their homes already.
"This is affecting at least 1,500 people so far and it could be more because these are just estimates," he said.
"It's on a scale that we have not seen for generations.
"The water levels are exceedingly high around the Shannon region -- it's unprecedented. The water level in Lough Ree is half a metre higher than the previous highest ever recorded. It's 0.3 of a metre higher in Lough Derg as well.
"While there is some indication that things have stabilised slightly, there are huge volumes of water in the Shannon catchment that have to be cleared, and that's going to take some time.
"The rainfall has been phenomenal over the past 30 days. There is flooding that has never been seen in living memory."
He also issued a warning that people should refrain from taking any risks in what is a very dangerous situation in many parts of the country:
"There's been no loss of life so far, but people can't let their guard down," he said.
"We don't want to lose anybody in this -- I want to see lifejackets on people."
The situation in Ireland today is one of desperation as a result of extensive flooding and the worsening economy. The latest budget report is due to be announced next week and preliminary reports are that it will bear more grim news for the people of the Republic of Ireland who are still reeling from the previous cuts in government services. The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is a charitable organization dedicated to our Catholic faith and our cherished Irish heritage. Perhaps now, as we approach the Holy Season of Christmas, would be a perfect time to think about rendering some much needed assistance to the people of Ireland in their time of need.