INSURANCE companies deluged with flood claims that could cost tens of millions of euro are bracing themselves for more as forecasters predict further bad weather is on the way.

Almost 20,000 households in Cork City are without water after unprecedented flooding described by the ESB as a “one-in-800-year event”.

The flood has meant 123,000 people will be without water for at least three days, forcing hundreds to queue for emergency supplies from tankers yesterday.

The situation was equally dire in other parts of the country as 200 people were evacuated from homes and businesses in Ballinasloe when the Suck burst its banks. In Gort, an 87-year-old woman was among a family of five airlifted to safety when flood waters surrounded their home. In Clonmel quays were under three feet of water as the Suir burst its banks.

The defence forces have deployed 175 troops, 24 vehicles and four flat-bottomed boats to help. Most are in Cork but others have been deployed in Clonmel, Ennis, Ballinasloe and Carlow. A further 300 troops have been put on standby.

Environment Minister John Gormley last night flew to Cork, where he toured affected areas and met local authority officials.

At University College Cork, damage to buildings forced the cancellation of lectures next week and Cork County Council has temporarily re-located 700 staff from its premises on the Carrigrohane Road.

The army was drafted in to transport Mercy University Hospital patients and staff and the threat of collapse of a nearby quay wall led 40 local residents to accept an offer of hotel accommodation.

The hospitality industry was badly hit as city officials predicted it will be at least Monday before water supplies are restored.

Supermarket chains reported a run on drinking water as householders rushed to stock up.

Valerie O’Sullivan, director of the city council’s emergency services, said she was “pretty confident” it would be at least three days before the water supply is restored, but further heavy rainfall could make matters worse.

Ms O’Sullivan dismissed the suggestion that failure to invest in the ageing water treatment plant at the Lee Road, which supplies the city, had contributed to the difficulties. The 50-year- old plant is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Remedial Action List.

“The latest crisis has nothing to do with how the waterworks operates and whether it is of a good standard or not. It is to do with the volume of water released by the ESB from the Inniscarra Dam – which they had to do or the dam would burst – and the absolutely inclement weather,” Ms O’Sullivan said. Valves that prevent contaminated water entering the supply burst, rendering two pumping stations useless and knocking out the water supply to over half the city.

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