Exhausted communities brave Christmas despite flooding

DESTROYED: John Mason's house was lost to the floods
DESTROYED: John Mason's house was lost to the floods

FLOOD-RAVAGED families along the Shannon are facing a race against time and nature to save their homes for Christmas.

But one Clare mother has warned exhausted families like hers are still facing “life-threatening” conditions caused by the deluge which engulfed the homes of her mother and her brother.

Geraldine Quinlivan, who has to get a boat to get into the gates of her house, has told how her community in Springfield in Co. Clare ran a very real risk of drowning and hypothermia in their desperate 10-day fight to save the River Shannon from gushing into their homes.

“We daren’t even think about Christmas,” she said. “The devastation at home is unreal. We have no drinking water, no toilet facilities, no heating. It hit everything. The septic tank is gone, our well is contaminated and the oil tank is gone.”

The mother-of-four (right) told how her family – who have five homes in one of the worst-hit areas of the country – are traumatised after waters broke through flood defences and sandbags around the 150-year childhood home belonging to her mother Nora Mason and her brother John’s cottage.

Nora Mason lost her home

As forecasters predict mild but unsettled conditions in the days ahead, Geraldine and hundreds of other housholders in Clare, Limerick, Galway and Mayo are still waiting for waters to recede to begin a clean-up operation.

“You actually couldn’t make this up, it’s an absolute disgrace,” Geraldine said. 

“It has gone beyond our homes now. With the water that came in seriously someone could have gotten drowned. It’s a health and safety issue.  

“It went up three feet in my mother’s house and higher on the road. In the dykes it was about 10 feet. If someone slipped into one of those dykes they were gone. The risk is still there. The water is still waist high on the road on one side and much deeper in the ditches. 

“This just has to be resolved. We’re absolutely traumatised.  We’re mentally and physically exhausted. 

“There was also a risk of hypothermia to the people in the community who stayed up in flood waters through the night pumping out water. They were in the cold water for so long.  

“At night is very frightening. My family slept on the sandbags right up to last Saturday night when they were manning the pumps all night, up until we lost the battle with my mother’s home and John’s home.”

Communities across the country have been left counting the cost of the flood clean-up in the aftermath of Storm Desmond. 

The Government has been criticised in recent days for not putting more money on the table to assist in the nationwide clean-up. 

Homes and businesses affected by the extreme weather have been promised €15m in humanitarian aid. The cabinet approved a €5m fund for businesses who suffered damage and were not able to get flood insurance cover.

Geraldine said it was heartbreaking telling her mother Nora – who is currently staying in a nursing home – that her house had been destroyed.

“My mother’s little house is gone. It’s the saddest thing ever. She is just so upset. My brother’s house went as well.

“They should have listened to us. We have been asking for the River Shannon to be cleaned for years. This is not fair.  

“We didn’t create this problem. It is caused from mismanagement of the river.”

She said her husband Joe and her four sons managed to save her own home, but she is now living without running water, working toilets and central heating after the havoc wreaked by the flood water.

Incredibly, she still has to wade in waist high waters to get home, while her son Evan has to get up in the dark and row a boat a mile down the road to get to his van so he can go to work.

Evan and Joe head for work 

She said engineers carrying out flood modelling as part of the Shannon Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management study presented flooding solutions to her community in a meeting nearly three weeks ago.

“Jacobs Engineering came up with three solutions just a week before we flooded,” Geraldine explained.

“One was to build a bank about a mile away between our houses and the river and another was to put another bank and to put in sluice gates and pumps 

“The other was to clean the river. We also want flood defences built around our houses,” she added.

“It saved Paddy Ryan’s house on the road so we know it works. They are viable solutions.  

“This should never be allowed happen again. We just can’t live like this anymore. It’s life-threatening.”

Lynne Kelleher and Martin Grant