Families whose homes were destroyed in a flood have demanded answers as to what led to the “disaster”.
Five homes were flooded in Coonagh, Co Limerick, and homeowners evacuated by boat to a nearby hotel, after a scheduled high-tide on the River Shannon, breached an embankment at flood defence operated by the Office of Public Works last weekend.
The river initially flooded at high tide on Friday night/Saturday morning.
The OPW attempted to bridge the embankment by it didn't hold and the river flooded again on Saturday night at another high tide.
Works put in place Sunday by OPW held overnight (Sunday night) and there was no additional flooding Sunday night.
The OPW is awaiting current high tide to recede before looking at continuing works on the embankment flood defence.
Over 60 acres of farmland were left underwater, as were large parts of Na Piarsaigh GAA Club, and, Coonagh airfield, the home of Limerick Flying Club.
On Friday, OPW workers carried out maintenance work at a sluice gate where the high tide breached the riverbank.
The Minister for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, visited the affected areas Sunday and launched an investigation into the matter.
Pauline Maxwell, who tried in vain to save her home as the floodwater struck around her bungalow finally gave in when council workers told her to leave for her own “health and safety”.
“My home is gone. Everything is gone,” she said holding back tears.
Ms Maxwell said her family had rebuilt the house “brick by brick” two years ago after it was flooded, when drains at a nearby landfill site became blocked.
“Literally the river came in around us. The smell in the house is awful. We are just trying to salvage what we can.”
Ms Maxwell’s brother, Pat Cronin, added: “Any place (the water) could come in, it came in”.
Michelle O’Mara, her husband Graham, along with their son Cathal, (10), were evacuated from their home on a boat provided by Limerick City Fire and Rescue Service.
Ms O’Mara complained she had not been able to reach authorities despite repeatedly trying a local OPW contact number.
Graham O’Mara added: “I’m feeling pretty unwell at the moment, everything I’ve worked for my whole life, I see it in a distressed state. It’s not just a house, it’s our home where we are raising our lovely ten-year-old boy. It’s full of memories, full of life, full of energy.”
Many praised the efforts of local Fine Gael Senator Kieran O’Donnell who worked around the clock sandbagging affected homes.
“This is a disaster, a tragic and major fallout for the people who were flooded. The bottom line is people need to get answers fast,” said Senator O’Donnell.
He said he visited the riverbank last Saturday afternoon and observed “a massive hole outside the sluice gate and a large amount of the embankment gone”.
“The OPW gave an assurance on the Saturday that they would carry out, and, expected that they would cover the breach - that did not happen. And, that consequently then, there was nothing to stop the water when the (second) high tide came Saturday night.”
Like a tsunami, the river raged on into Na Piarsaigh’s GAA Club, destroying almost everything in its wake.
Former Na Piarsaigh chairman Timmy O’Connor, broke down under the strain of it all.
Surveying the “mess” before him he wept as he explained how the club had pumped “almost a million euro here putting in state-of-the-art facilities”.
Now its playing pitches, training pitches, floodlights and electrical generator station were “under water”.
“I’m involved here since 1983. It’s hard, to see the whole thing go up in smoke,” O’Connor added.
Local farmer Ger Dempsey was also counting the cost, after 60 acres of his land were left “under six feet of water”.
Relieve that none of his cattle were hurt or killed in the flood , Dempsey said he would have to wait for the water to recede to allow him recover a “stack of 250 bales” of silage that were washed away into ditches and drains.
An OPW spokesperson stated this evening: “The Office of Public Works (OPW) is working with the Local Authority, in the first instance, to ensure homeowners can return to their homes as soon as possible.”
The OPW said that during a “routine inspection” of its “flood defence” along “the embankment at Coonagh, it was observed that one of the sluice outfalls had collapsed”.
“The function of the sluice outfall allows the discharge of water from the area protected by the embankment to the estuary, and during high tides prevents tidal waters in the estuary backing up in to the protected area.
Emergency repair works started on this sluice, on Friday and Saturday last. The OPW team could not repair the sluice due to the high tide.
“A temporary bund/embankment was put in place with the aim of preventing water entering the protected area. Unfortunately this temporary measure failed and as such tidal waters entered the area on Friday night/Saturday morning.
“The OPW were in contact with the local authority over the weekend that provided sandbags to the affected houses. Several pumps have been deployed to the area.
“On Sunday the OPW undertook further works and these withstood the high tide last night. Further works on these temporary measures were completed this morning. This is only a temporary measure and the OPW is focused on repairing the breach, when the tides recede.
“The OPW acknowledges that in trying to repair the damage to the sluice, the temporary structures did not initially provide the level of protection provided by the embankments and did lead to flooding in the area. The OPW is meeting with the Local Authority.”