The level of the river Shannon will reach its peak and may begin to recede by this weekend. That was the message delivered by Westmeath County Council on Monday afternoon, December 14.
Throughout the last 10 days a rapid inter-agency response coupled with the efforts of councillors and volunteers has succeeded in limiting the damage caused by the rising waters. To date three houses have suffered flooding, a small number considering the 100 houses that were thought to be at risk.
Almost 40,000 sandbags, 500 of which are as large as one tonne in weight, have been made and distributed since the council’s initial response on Monday, December 7. Added to this, more than 100 pumps have been in operation 24/7, provided by the council, Motorways Ireland, and private individuals. Council staff and volunteers have been manning these pumps around the clock in their fight to save people’s property.
Members of the Defence Forces have been out lending a helping hand since Tuesday last week. To aid those in rural areas like Carrickobrien, the county council has provided transportation by way of the ‘unihog’, a vehicle purchased after the flooding of 2009 to provide transport in the event of a repeat of the conditions of that year.
Those who left their homes out of worry or necessity have been provided with emergency accommodation by the council. Added to this, the HSE, Department of Social Protection, the Gardaí, Irish Farmers Association, ESB, Teagaisc, the Irish Red Cross and many other agencies and volunteers have contributed to what has been a multi-faceted response to the crisis. A total of €220,000 has been spent on the response effort, a figure the council are hopeful will be supplemented by Government.
Cathaoirleach Paul Daly (FF ) expressed his gratitude to all council representatives, staff, agencies, and members of the public who have given their time during what is a difficult and worrying period for many.
Athlone director of services, Barry Kehoe, paid tribute to the number of volunteers taking part in the effort, from local eateries taking turns to feed volunteers to those who gave their time freely to look after their neighbours and lend a helping hand.
Once the river retreats a major cleanup operation will be implemented. Mr Kehoe said that the council will provide a certain amount of skips to aid people in disposing of damaged property.
Councillor Aengus O’Rourke (FF ) paid tribute to the work of the council, agencies, and volunteers. He explicitly named Pat Keating, Barry Kehoe, and Pat Nally for the hours and effort they have put in since the situation presented itself.
Councillor Michael O’Brien (Ind ) reserved special mention for Cllr Kevin “Boxer” Moran (Ind ) who, like in 2009, has immersed himself in the flood response on the ground since the crisis began. Cllr O’Brien described Cllr Moran as a “leader on the ground” and commended him for providing a “sense of hope” to those in areas at risk.
Councillor Paul Hogan (SF ) also commended the council for its response this year. He noted the distribution of information to the public this time around as a real mark of improvement, as well as the communication between all the agencies involved. He referred to the situation as “a logistical nightmare” due to the number of agencies with a stake in the Shannon, but one that has been managed well by all involved.
Mr Kehoe thanked councillors for their kind words but urged caution. He said if the Shannon continues to rise in the coming days and exceeds 2009 levels there may be little anyone can do to prevent damage to areas at risk. He said “we are living in hope” that the situation is resolved and a cleanup well underway by Christmas.