Hell and high water —Town braces itself as Shannon rises

Athlone is bracing itself for heavy floods this weekend after confirmation that flood levels will rise to those recorded in 2009, when they caused damage in excess of several miilion euro.

The county council is in constant receipt of data from the ESB which predicts that water levels will continue to rise for the next three days and may approach the levels recorded in 2009 by Saturday, December 12.

Addressing Monday’s meeting, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, told councillors the Shannon is expected to rise throughout the next few days at approximately six to eight inches per day, depending on the persistence of rain. While this is relatively slow, it is the duration of the increased flow that is the worry.

The ESB has predicted the levels will peak at 39.59 metres by December 12. The highest level reached in 2009 was 39.67 metres. This is bad news for worried residents in vulnerable areas like Deerpark Road, Golden Island, Carrick-O-Brien, The Strand and Wolfe Tone Terrace. Kehoe warned that up to 100 homes are at risk of flooding on RTE’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday.

Westmeath County Council activated its Flood Emergency Response Plan last weekend and a meeting of the interagency Response Committee is being held each day at 11am. Wednesday’s meeting was attended by representatives of An Garda Siochána, Irish Water, the Defence Forces and the HSE, where it was agreed that the agencies would continue to assist people to protect their homes and businesses, to provide transport where this is required and to provide other humanitarian assistance.

In the wake of the flooding of 2009, a CFRAM report was established to map out the entire Shannon, the most comprehensive report ever conducted on Ireland's famous river. Deadline extension after deadline extension later, the people of Athlone find themselves six years down the road without any answers but with the same old problems.

Councillors have been critical of the amount of time it has taken to finalise the report. Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O'Rourke said the flooding is a "devastating blow" for the people affected. The councillor noted that while relevant agencies work in closer conjunction since the flooding six years ago, but in terms of infrastructure nothing has changed, and therein lies the issue.

Sinn Fein Councillor, Paul Hogan, expressed his anger that the council had been told in 2009 that the level of flooding experienced was a once-in-a-lifetime event. He said the money for flood defence is and has been available through Europe, but that the political will to act is lacking. Hogan said his "heart goes out to the people affected" and called for Ministerial intervention on the matter.

Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, said that nothing could be done in the line of flood defences until the publication of the CFRAM report. He said he appreciated that councillors and people in general are frustrated at hearing this as a reason for delay, but conceded that this is where things unfortunately stand.

On Tuesday (December 8 ) the Government agreed a €5m fund for businesses who cannot get insurance or who are in flood-risk towns. It is understood there will be an upper limit for funding and it will cover vouched expenses. The details will be worked out by Minister for Agriculture and Defence, Simon Coveney, and announced later this week. A €10m humanitarian assistance fund is already in place for householders who have immediate needs.

Farmers affected are to be given flexibility for animal movements and inspections for a period. People who suffered losses as a result of flooding should contact their local community welfare service for financial assistance. This service is open to all and not just those in receipt of social welfare. Local officers are calling to the homes of some of those affected to offer assistance in this process.

Further more detailed advice is available on the council’s website at www.westmeathcoco.ie

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