President Michael D Higgins was visibly moved yesterday when he met Jessica McNamara, whose home was devastated by recent Limerick flooding.
Since fleeing her home in a rescue boat more than a week ago, Jessica, 33, and her nine children aged between 14 and six months have been living in a caravan.
Dressed in pyjamas and holding back tears, she told the President how her home at St Munchin’s Court, St Mary’s Park, had been destroyed, along with all her possessions.
She has moved into a caravan at the home of a friend in Cappamore.
“It is very hard on the kids,” she told President Higgins. “Three of them are on bottles and in nappies, and four of them are asthmatic and use nebulisers.
“I come in here to St Mary’s Park to my mam’s every morning to prepare the children’s bottles. At night in the caravan, we have to use a bucket to go to the toilet.”
President Higgins mentioned Jessica’s plight to Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan, who was at the King’s Island community centre, where the President met with victims and hundreds of emergency and rescue service personnel.
Community activist John Costelloe said: “I introduced the President to Jessica. She is worn out at this stage and is in dire need of emergency housing. Following the meeting with the President, the ball is now rolling to get something done for Jessica.”
Following her meeting, a friend joked to Jessica that she was the first person to greet a head of State dressed in pyjamas.
“After the week I have been through, I wasn’t one bit embarrassed,” said Jessica. “I lost most of my clothes and this was all I had to wear when I came back to my mam’s house this morning to get bottles ready for the children.”
Hers was just one of the many stories President Higgins heard from residents and emergency services on visits to King’s Island and St Munchin’s Community Centre.
President Higgins said: “When you look on the many people in Ireland and the great distress and fear the flooding has caused, it is only when I met the people directly affected, as I went around the room here this morning, that you can get a sense of how distressing this has been.
“It isn’t just possessions you are losing, but things you have invested life and intimacy in.
“What is even more impressive are the people with good ideas. People who used every resource they had to respond in solidarity to the needs of their neighbours.
“Sometimes that requires very, very clever, professional skills.
“Sometimes it means moving with heart and resources and your mind, like for example Gerry and his trap and horses.”
This reference to Gerry Hogan was greeted by a long round of applause.
Gerry, 57, a father of seven, helped move 200 stranded neighbours in Island View Terrace using his trap and mare Peg, as well as two other horses.
When that mission was completed, he and Peg helped bring sand bags into Island View Terrace.
Gerry said yesterday: “Sure, I was only helping my neighbours.”
The King’s Island Community Centre has over the last week catered for bereft locals and hundreds of voluntary and public services workers.
Gerry Garvey, manager of the centre, said: “We have been doing up to 470 meals a day, mostly for victims of the flooding, whose kitchens have been wrecked and can’t use their houses due to sanitary problems.”
Ms O’Sullivan, who is the local TD, said some people have been moved to permanent alternative accommodation and some will shortly be moved to temporary homes.
“It is really a question of each family being talked to, and see what the best solution, both short term and long term is for them,” said O’Sullivan. “The number of houses which were flooded is about 300. But the number of people affected is in the thousands.”
She said only small amounts of money have to date been paid out.
Meanwhile, Sarah McNamara returned to work at the King’s Island centre yesterday.
She lives at St Ita’s St, St Mary’s Park, with her four children, aged between 10 and 4. Her family have been living upstairs as all carpets and floorboards downstairs were ripped out due to flood damage.
“Today is my first day back at work here in the centre,” said Sarah. “Me and the children are still living rough because of the state of the house. The children went back to school today. It’s terrible at home. I felt like getting back to work and it was very good. There is great spirit. The spirit of St Mary’s is alive and well.”
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