Unchartered waters as district is hit by worst floods in years

November 17, 2014

The clean-up operation is continuing in dozens of homes and businesses across Newry and south Armagh after torrential rain on Thursday and Friday sparked flooding chaos.

Newry city centre was among the areas worst hit when the Clanrye River burst its banks, leaving Bridge Street under three feet of water.  Scenes never before witnessed in the area saw cars stranded and people being carried across a torrent of water spilling down the city street.  Storm drains were unable to cope with the volume of rainwater as residents and business owners built barriers of sandbags to protect their property, however their efforts were no match for the ferocity of the rising water.

Emergency teams worked tirelessly to evacuate the area and clear the water late on Thursday evening, only to see the flooding return in the early hours of Friday morning following another night of heavy downpours.

Residents of Thomas Street and Cleary Crescent experienced their worst ever flooding and the risk remained high on Friday when further supplies of sandbags were distributed throughout the area amid fears the high tide would exacerbate the situation.

Police, Fire Crews and Rivers Agency staff worked throughout Thursday and Friday pumping the water out of the city streets so that residents and business owners could begin to assess the damage.

In response to the worsening situation on Thursday, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan activated an emergency scheme for stricken householders, allowing residents who suffered severe inconvenience as result of the flooding to claim a £1,000 payment from the Council.  The Minister stressed that the payment was not a compensation scheme but was meant to ensure that homes are made habitable as quickly as possible.

South Armagh did not escape the onslaught of the unprecedented rainfall with several roads closed and sandbags issued to residents in worst affected areas.

Slieve Gullion Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Larkin praised the prompt actions of local Roads Service personnel in the area in issuing sandbags to householders in Forkhill and Dromintee amid concern their homes were in danger of flooding.  The councillor said the Roads Service response had “without doubt saved the day”.

“At a time when the Service was under enormous pressure due to the amount of rainfall I would like to commend the local staff for their efforts,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill visited those affected by the flooding on Friday and reassured local communities that her engineers in Rivers Agency had been working tirelessly to mitigate the risk to homes and businesses.

Mickey Brady MLA praised the minister for her prompt action in co-ordinating the response to the flooding which he said had “no doubt prevented the floodwaters from damaging more properties”.

He said her actions stood “in stark contrast” to those of Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, whose cutbacks and layoffs, particularly in relation to gully cleaning, contributed to the flooding and the subsequent damage to homes and businesses, he claimed.

Minister Kennedy refuted the suggestion that cuts to maintenance budgets were to blame, claiming that the river bursting its banks leaving drains unable to cope with the “sheer volume” of water was the primary cause of the flooding in Newry.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said serious lessons must be learned by all the statutory agencies involved in managing flood risk in Newry to ensure that the scenes witnessed “can never be repeated again”.

Mr Bradley said he wanted to see “collective and urgent action” by all those involved in managing flood risk to ensure this.

‘If lessons are not learned and actions not taken following this flooding then it will undoubtedly happen again.” he said, and he called for an urgent assessment of the Bridge Street area “to establish what went wrong”.

“This same area was flooded in 2009 and the fact that it has happened again clearly demonstrates that not enough action was taken to combat the problem,” he added.

On a lighter note, with roads turned into rivers, two workers from AJ Plumbing in Greenbank came up with an alternative mode of transport, creating a custom-built raft from the store’s plumbing supplies. The pair literally paddled their own canoe along the waterlogged route from the Greenbank on Friday afternoon, bringing a much-needed dose of light-hearted fun to what was a distressing few days for many.