Four times normal rainfall – and there’s more to come

COMMUNITIES devastated by some of the worst floods in living memory were last night bracing themselves for a further deluge.

Towns across Connaught and Munster were facing multi-million euro clean-up bills as forecasters warned of four-hour downpours in some areas today.

Local authorities and emergency volunteers, including the Irish Red Cross, evacuated people stranded in homes and businesses destroyed by rising waters.

Some of the areas worst hit by floods were washed out after almost four times the normal rainfall fell in the last seven days.

Claremorris in Co Mayo was among the worst affected, with 101mm falling in the last week – almost four times its average for this time of year – while Knock Airport was hit by the same high levels.

Roches Point in Cork and Shannon Airport, both with 60mm, and Johnstown Castle in Wexford with 80mm all recorded about three times higher than usual rainfall for a week in mid- November.

Met Éireann data revealed Claremorris has suffered twice its average rainfall for the month as a whole.

Cork Airport was hit by 192mm since November 1 when the normal total is about108mm. Shannon recorded 180mm – almost double its average 94mm.

Forecasters warned the weather will turn again today with gale-force windson all coasts followed by rain across Connaught, Munster and south Leinster.

Met Éireann’s Deirdre Lowe said a new weather front will move across Ireland early today.

“It’s going to bring heavy rain and strong winds but the rain won’t last aslong,” she said.

“There’s nothing exceptional, about 15mm, but because there has been a lot offlooding there could be more.

“It will be quite intense for maybe four hours but it won’t be prolonged – nothing like we have seen over the last week or so.”

Almost 20,000 people had phone lines cut off after floods tore through the Eircom network, the company said yesterday. It said landlines and broadband were hit worst in Co Cork after the exchange in Bandon was flooded.

The knock-on effect left 10,500 customers from Clonakilty west to Rosscarbery, Ballydehob and Drimoleague without communications. Eircom said some services in bigger towns such as Skibbereen were quickly restored.

Co Clare was also badly hit, with 6,200 customers without phones, while in Ballyhaise, Co Cavan connections to 700 people were cut and an Eircom spokesman said there were another 5,000 faults caused by floods on the network.

“Our crews have identified a number of vulnerable and threatened sites aroundthe country and are maintaining surveillance and patrols on these areas to manage and respond to any increase in risk throughout the day and over the weekend,” the company said.

Around the country army units joined emergency crews and volunteers to help communities facing the rising flood waters. The worst -hit areas include:

* Ballinasloe, Co Galway: About 200 people were evacuated from homes and businesses when the River Suck burst its banks.

Schools were shut, the main Dublin to Galway road closed and all rail and busservices to Galway suspended for several hours. Authorities were later forced to open a 26km section of the new M6 motorway to ease traffic pressure and create a cross-country route.

Residents were warned to boil all water before drinking it, while the Defence Forces deployed 20 soldiers to evacuate families.

Local councillor Michael Mullins said parts of the town were under at leastthree feet of water. “It’s really serious,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of pain, hardship and inconvenience.

“A lot of people are very frightened and the water is still rising in the square.”

* Killarney, Co Kerry: More than 100 guests had to be evacuated from the Lake Hotel, whose general manager Niall Huggard said: “We’ve never seen anything like this before.

“We’ve had to close the hotel for the weekend and the lake is still rising.” Water got into a section of the hotel to a depth of about three feet and pumps were being used all day yesterday.

The hotel, which is one of the oldest in Kerry, has been in the Huggard family for generations but nobody can remember flooding on such a scale, he said.

* Gort, Co Galway: A family of five were airlifted to safety in an early morning rescue as flood waters surrounded their home.

An 87-year-old woman was among the occupants winched from the property in Kilbeacanty at 2.30am, with the Irish Coast Guard helicopter landing in a nearby floodlit GAA pitch.

* Ennis, Co Clare: Flood waters cut off approach roads to the town after the River Fergus burst its banks, with the only vehicles able to access the town being army trucks, Garda cars and emergency vehicles.

Businesses in the lower Abbey Street and Francis Street area suffered significant water damage and at one stage yesterday, gardaí were preventing pedestrians from crossing the nearby ‘Post Office’ bridge amid fears that it could collapse as the river reached dangerously high levels.

Clare County Manager Tom Coughlan described the flooding as the worst in living memory. The council’s emergency plan was put in place, involving Army personnel, council staff, gardaí, fire and rescue services and Civil Defence in dealing with flood damage.

The council confirmed that 40 households from Elm Park and Oakwood Drive near the Gort Road had been evacuated overnight – some by boat.

All schools with the exception of Rice College were closed yesterday, with much of the low-lying grounds of St Flannan’s College underwater.

The only access routes to Ennis were the Tulla and Kilrush roads.

Girroga Lake on the northern outskirts of the town also burst its banks and was last night threatening to flood the Gort Road Business Park where multinationals Microsemi and Essilor are based.

Roads across Co Clare were “bad but passable” but old roads around Newmarket on Fergus, Ennistymon, Kilrush and Killaloe were underwater, with serious flooding around Broadford and Doon Lough.

* Clonmel, Co Tipperary: Just one bridge in the town remained open as a swollen River Suir breached defences and left quays under three feet of water.

Schools in the town centre were shut and a council spokeswoman said while water levels were dropping, further rainfall was expected through the night, sparking fears of more flooding.

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