IT’S been a hard slog for residents to repair the damage caused by the devastating floods which destroyed many Limerick homes last February, but they’ve done it.
However, the fear of a repeat disaster still hangs over residents in St Mary’s Park.
Heavy rain and high tides saw residents initially stranded, and then forced out of their homes, earlier this year.
President Michael D Higgins travelled to St Mary’s Park on a morale-boosting trip the week after the floods that left hundreds homeless. He marvelled at the way the community had rallied around to deal with the crisis and get their lives back on track.
James O’Brien was one of those forced to flee from his home in St Munchin’s Street in a boat, with his elderly mother, his partner Elaine, and their two children, aged five and nine.
For the next seven weeks, the family was split up and lived with different relatives.
James, 40, could not get flood insurance on his house. However, in a blessing in disguise, his car was a write-off due to water damage and, with the car insurance money, he set about repairing his home, rather than wait for help to arrive at his door.
“The water came up to the window sills in the house and we all had to move upstairs,” says James. “After about four hours we were rescued by boat. My mother, who is aged 84, and my partner and the children were put into a boat and brought to safety. We went to different houses. It was hard, but the kids are alive and we are all okay.”
Although aid was offered to help repair houses, James decided he was not going to wait.
“We got some funding, but this would only pay for about one third of the money needed to fully repair the damage,” he says. “But with the money I got and the money from the car insurance, me and my brother started to work on the house taking up floor boards and replacing them and putting up new doors and getting replacement furniture. I own my own house, but could not get flood insurance.
“Aside from the damage to the house, we lost personal things and Christmas presents we got for the kids. We got some money from humanitarian aid, the Red Cross and Regeneration. In fairness there was a lot of help available at the time, and the people in Star Rovers soccer club were great.”
James says it was ironic that, on the day he and his brother had completed most of the repair work on the house, workers came to the door and said their house was next to be repaired.
However, as chairman of the local residents’ association, James says he is fears St Mary’s Park is still vulnerable to flood waters from the Shannon, which loops around the estate.
“Part of the river bank which was repaired collapsed again,” he says. “Who is to say it is not happening elsewhere along the bank? We have to keep monitoring the high tides ourselves, as nobody else will tell us. We need flood defences and the way the weather is changing, if anything like what happened in February hits us again, we are finished. Every time there is heavy rain you become fearful of what might happen.
“I wouldn’t be back here now only for the car insurance which I spent on repairs. I then got a small car to replace the one I lost.
“Regeneration did step in and many people would not be back in their houses only for the money and help they got from Regeneration. Seventy per cent of people would not be back only for the Regeneration money. The lads in Star Rover soccer club gave us lots of help. We got help from Regeneration who gave us a new central heating boiler and electrical stuff.”
He said his association has had meetings with officials from various departments to try to address the issue of house insurance.
Sarah McNamara, along with her partner and their children aged 10, seven, six, and four, had to be rescued from their home at No 2, St Ita’s Street, St Mary’s Park.
Sarah, 35, says: “All the downstairs was destroyed — three piece, carpets, wooden floors, the whole lot.”
She moved to her sister’s house for the first night and then returned home.
“We all lived upstairs for about two weeks,” she says. “It was very hard and we got food from the community centre.
“The house has all been repaired with tiles and new wooden floors. The kitchen has been fully repaired. The Regeneration looked after the repair work. We got €2,500 to buy replacement furniture and other items that we had to throw out as they were so badly damaged. We had to get a new cooker and a new fridge. It’s grand now and all the damage repaired. The repair work was finished in May.”
Sarah says they were happy with the way they were treated — “they couldn’t do enough” — but she still fears more floods.
“Last week when we got very heavy rain I was frightened,” she says. “It might happen again. We are still very nervous.”
Independent councillor John Gilligan says more than 1,000 people were affected by the floods.
“In many cases, houses were unliveable for weeks. It was a huge disaster for the area,” he says. “We moved quickly in Limerick and did not have the same delays as other parts of the country had to endure, waiting for two to three years for compensation. We started work immediately and I am very pleased with the response we got from the Regeneration.”
He says the first issue they dealt with was home ownership.
“Half the houses in St Mary’s Park are owned by the council and the other half are privately owned,” he says. “So it was decided to treat every house as if it was owned by the city council. That was vitally important as otherwise you would repair one house, skip the next one and that kind of nonsense. Without this, people who owned their own houses would have been unable to do anything as they were unable to get flood insurance cover. That was tackled and that helped speed things along.”
He says having local representatives Michael Noonan and Jan O’Sullivan at the cabinet table was another big factor in mounting a speedy response.
“The Government saw it as a major problem and did react,” says Mr Gilligan. “The money came through — money which Regeneration had and money which the government gave. The floods hit on a Saturday morning and the following morning we had a major meeting with all public representatives, city officials, and representatives from Regeneration. Everybody realised the seriousness of the situation and did react.
“The total cost will come to millions. With some houses the repair costs will be up to €30,000 and more, and that money has been paid to builders to complete this work.
“Most people would be happy with what they got. Nobody ever gets what they look for. But most things were looked after and houses were got up and running again. That is not to say people are where they were, as a lot of important personal family items and records were lost in the floods. But anything that could be replaced was replaced.
“The two ministers said whatever had to be done, would be done and they did move rapidly. Decisions had to be taken at top level and it happened. Only for that we would be dragging on.”
Josephine Walsh had a very full house at 2 Verdant Crescent on King’s Island during the flood.
“As well as myself and my son, another son came home from Wales just before the flood,” she says. “So, with his children and partner and my mother, who had to be rescued by boat from her home in St Munchin’s Street, we had 11 in the house. My house has three rooms and we were sleeping on couches, on the floors, everywhere. It was like that for about six weeks. We couldn’t get out of the house for a while and had nowhere to go.”
One of her sons had to move to live with another son in Garryowen.
“My house is okay. They put down floor boards, but did not put in presses for me,” says Josephine. “I needed them. My carpet is still on the stairs, but these are only minor things. But our big fear is that it will happen again. With some heavy rain at night you’d be afraid to get out of the bed in the morning.”
St Mary’s community centre kitchen faced a huge logistical task and hundreds of people had to depend on the efforts of chef Christy O’Brien and his team to ensure everyone was fed — not just residents, but also the large numbers of rescue and emergency service workers and volunteers.
“On the Sunday morning, we couldn’t get into the centre due to the flood waters,” says Christy. “We eventually got in and we were lucky in that the Regeneration had just put in a state-of-the-art kitchen. Otherwise we would not have been able to manage.
“St Munchin’s Centre in Kileely helped us out on the first few days to get in stocks of food. Families were given dockets for meals which we served them here in the centre. We also prepared meals which were brought out to others. We were doing up to 400 breakfasts and lunches every day. We came in early and got volunteers who came in to give us help and it worked out.”
“It was hectic for about four weeks, working long hours. But the entire city gave us support and it was great to be part of the big effort to help the people hit by the floods.”