No end in sight to flood problems, warns emergency response group

THERE is “no end in sight” to the country’s devastating flood problems with high tides expected on top of more rainfall next week, the Government’s emergency response group warned last night.

“The next five days will be crucial,” said Sean Hogan, chairman of the expert group which met yesterday to monitor developments.

He was speaking after it emerged that €30 million earmarked for flood relief work in the 2008 and 2009 Budgets was not spent.

Labour’s environment spokesperson Joanna Tuffy said “the awful consequences of the deluge may well have been substantially mitigated had money been spent on the required relief works”.

She said €50m was promised for Flood Relief Works in the 2008 budget, and a further €43m in the 2009 budget. But of that, €93m, only €63m has been spent.

“I don’t know what has happened to the other €30m, but I do know that it wasn’t spent on flood defences,” said Ms Tuffy.

The expert group said that, even with no rainfall, it would take three weeks for the Shannon River to return to normal levels and “extremely high levels” are expected in the near future.

Mr Hogan said: “The main area of concern remains the Shannon catchment. The reports we have received are that possible peaks have been reached on water levels in the upper Shannon region and peaks are moving southwards towards Lough Derg.

“A fair bit of dry weather is expected over the next five days and that will ease conditions.”

But he said rain is expected to return from Tuesday and high tides “could have a significant effect” on flood levels.

“Sadly there is no early end to the current problems in sight,” he said.

With full tides expected today and tomorrow, hundreds of residents along the lower Shannon between Killaloe and Limerick are bracing themselves for massive surges of water with the level of the river expected to rise by one metre.

Tens of thousands of sand bags have been brought in to blockade vulnerable houses.

The riverside neighbouring villages of O’Brien’s Bridge, Montpelier and Castleconnell are expected to take the brunt of the extra water which will have to be released from Parteen Weir to cope withe new record water levels on Lough Derg.

No water was released yesterday as conditions did not deteriorate.

Further down river the Limerick city suburbs of Shannon Banks and Clonlara face new threats as the tides will be whipped up by strong south westerly winds forecast over coming days.

The Irish Coast Guard unit at Killaloe is on full standby as are coast guard units in Doolin and Ballybunion who may have to be called in.

The coast guard volunteers have moved more than 40 leisure boats from the regular berths on Lough Derg to safer moorings.

Up to 70 families in Montpelier, O’Brien’s Bridge, Castleconnell, Clonlara, Annacotty and Shannon Banks have been forced to move out of their homes.

Castleconnell is one of the most vulnerable places and yesterday nine of the 12 families in the Meadowbrook estate left their homes. Meanwhile, the Government’s fodder aid scheme is now in place, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith said yesterday.

Confirmation that the €2m scheme was up and running came as farmers living in other parts of Ireland sent truck loads of hay and silage to the worst affect flooded areas of the west and the midlands.

Collection and distribution points operated by the Irish Farmers Association at Gort and Ballinasloe in Co Galway and at Banagher, Co Offaly, distributed the feed.

By last night, a total of 40 loads of silage bales, 40 tonnes of concentrate feed and 2,000m bales of hay had been delivered to farms where cattle feed was destroyed by the flood waters.

Mr Smith said it was very important that funds made available by the Government to help people source fodder are paid as quickly as possible.

He urged those farmers, who are directly affected, to complete and submit the application without delay.

The scheme is targeted at farmers in the west, midlands and south west who suffered flood damage to fodder this month.

Mr Smith said the Government wants to deal effectively, efficiently and quickly with the needs of farmers who are going through a very traumatic and difficult period.

“I am very glad that we have this scheme in operation now that will help people source fodder,” he said.

The scheme will require farmers to demonstrate that the fodder was damaged and the extent of that damage.

Asked on RTÉ Radio 1 about this requirement in cases where bales have been washed away, he said obviously such fodder is not available to feed cattle and that comes into the equation.

“We are going to be practical and deal with the realities on the ground,” said Mr Smith, who praised the farmers, who have been assisting neighbours and the community in general.

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