Over 450 requests for help in Derry and Strabane after recent flooding

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Derry City and Strabane council have received over 450 requests to inspect domestic properties impacted by the recent flooding.

The Met Office estimated that 70mms of rain fell in the area in five hours on the Saturday evening putting it on par with August 2017 when some 60-70mm of rain fell over an eight to nine-hour period, resulting in the flooding of around 400 properties.

Following an update by council officers it has been agreed to write to the Health Minister asking him to update the protocol for emergency services in the event of flooding.

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Raising the matter at July’s full council meeting recently, Mayor, Councillor Sandra Duffy said: “The flooding on Saturday night was devastating for so many families and individuals.

Water damaged kitchen of a residential property in Ivey Mead, Ardmore, after the heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2230GS – 011Water damaged kitchen of a residential property in Ivey Mead, Ardmore, after the heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2230GS – 011
Water damaged kitchen of a residential property in Ivey Mead, Ardmore, after the heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2230GS – 011

“I was able to get out and around quite a few areas on Sunday and then into Strabane on Tuesday. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the devastation in some of those homes.

“I know some of these families have been affected two, some three times and to me that is just devastating for them.”

Prior to an update by his officers, council Chief Executive John Kelpie stated: “It’s been an awful number of days for so many individuals and businesses across the city and district.”

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Lead Assurance Officer Denise McDonnell confirmed a number of meetings have been held with affected communities and community reps across the city and district. 

Mayor Sandra Duffy.Mayor Sandra Duffy.
Mayor Sandra Duffy.

She said: “We have moved to restock all of council sandbag containers. DfI Rivers have had difficulty restocking so we have taken that up regionally and got funding from the regional group to restock it privately ourselves.”

Head of Health and Community Well-being, Seamus Donaghy explained his team had received just over 450 requests to inspect domestic properties impacted by the flood water.

He added: “To date we have inspected and visited over 95% of those properties and approximately 100 applications have been approved to date.

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“We aim to have the majority of the approvals processed by close of business on Friday. We continue to receive requests for inspection so there may be a few early next week as well that will be processed.

“Currently the environmental team has 12 officers carrying out inspections which they began on Sunday just after lunchtime.”

City solicitor Philip Kingston gave an update on the Ballycolman estate and plans to reroute flood waters into the Melvin playing fields.

“Members will recall there was a paper ratified by council at the end of May in relation to the potential for a short term which DfI Roads were looking to put in place in relation to the flooding issues at the Ballycolman estate.

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“Following the ratification of that paper, officers of the council have been working proactively with their colleagues in the DfI to allow that solution to be put in place. Those agreements will be brought before the council for ratification.

“This work was continuing in advance of the flood and has continued subsequently as well.”

Head of Environment, Conor Canning explained to elected representatives that crews were still on the ground working with homes impacted.

Sinn Féin councillor Michaela Boyle praised the response by the council team, she also commended the community in Strabane.

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“Some people are experiencing flooding for the fourth and fifth time into their homes,” she said. “It’s horrendous, morally and what it does to their mental health and well-being and it doesn’t just affect the family in the house, it affects the whole family and indeed the neighbourhood.”

Councillor Boyle went on to speak about the damage caused to businesses across the district acknowledging the impact ‘particularly in a time where business isn’t great and now they have had to deal with flooding’.

Referring to the current protocol for emergency services she called for changes to be made to enable emergency services to respond immediately to flooding rather than having to wait until waters have entered homes.

Councillor Boyle proposed that council write to Health Minister Robin Swann to revise the protocol which was unanimously passed.

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Describing the situation as ‘devastating’, Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson said: “It is multiple times these houses have been flooded and these families have had to move out of their homes and find somewhere to stay.”

Calling for action and a way forward, councillor Ferguson continued: “We need to find ways to remediate this so it doesn’t happen again and look at things like the flood prevention scheme not only for private residents but also for Housing Executive houses.

“I’ve met 13 businesses that are looking at a huge bill to pay with some not able to access insurance, so it has to be a huge priority for our council to push back and say there has to be a mechanism in which these businesses can reach support.”

Praising council staff, SDLP councillor Brian Tierney described their reaction to the flooding as ‘second to none’.

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Criticising the access to sand bags, the Ballyarenett elected representative stated ‘it was an issue on Saturday evening’.

“We need to have access to sandbags in every DEA,” he said. “In my own DEA I’m not aware of anywhere where sandbags are kept in stock and I know that’s an issue.

“There was an issue on Saturday night with a fork lift truck hindering the distribution of sand bags at the DfI depot at Lisnagelvin.  Whilst it didn’t stop the distribution of sand bags, it definitely slowed the whole process down.”

Councillor Tierney said it was ‘important’ to have a special council meeting with the various stakeholders to discuss the impact of the flooding across the city and district.

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Sinn Féin councillor Patricia Logue raised her concerns about the lateness of the Met Office weather warning saying: “I believe the warning that comes from the Met office is a catalyst for other organisations to spring into action with emergency plans.”

She continued: “This flooding in the Foyle Road area and all the streets coming off it experience flooding after heavy rain up to three or four times a year. This is the gateway to our city centre.

“A solution needs to be found.

“The issues in the Moor DEA need to be addressed because this is happening very, very regularly. There has to be some solution out there.”

People Before Profit councillor Maeve O’Neill echoed the previous comments and along with DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney and UUP Alderman Darren Guy criticised the response of the DfI.

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Aontu councillor Emmet Doyle said the response from ‘the top down in the DfI leaves a lot to be desired’. 

He added: “We want to see an assessment of all gullies and drains right across this city because there is no doubt that there are some which are blocked that are contributing to water and surface water lying in areas which we know constantly flood.”

Bringing the discussion to a close Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson said: “There are parts of this city and district that are prone to flooding and there does need to be a dedicated flood alleviation scheme and flood prevention scheme implemented.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter