Relief as Northern Ireland escapes worst of flooding

Holywood Prommanade was closed due to slight flooding.
Holywood Prommanade was closed due to slight flooding.

Northern Ireland has escaped largely unscathed from tidal surges, as a major sea defence operation involving the distribution of almost 50,000 sandbags was not tested to the full.

Residents in coastal locations along the north and east coasts have been on high alert since Thursday night when official warnings of potential serious floods were first issued.

There were periods of localised flooding in some towns and villages, and coast roads were battered with high waves and debris, but the scenes were nothing close to those feared.

The PSNI co-ordinated a flood defence operation that involved many public services.

Concern was intense in the densely-packed Sydenham residential area of east Belfast, where residents had been warned at the end of last week to pack a bag and prepare for potential evacuation.

Walls of sandbags were built on the banks of the River Connswater and householders, who have experienced flooding a number of times over recent years, erected their own defences with bags handed out at council facilities. But as the last of the anticipated high tides peaked yesterday afternoon without breaching the river bank, the area breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Former Belfast city mayor and East Belfast representative Gavin Robinson said: “There is a huge sense of relief and indeed gratitude for all that has gone in over the last four or five days – the community effort, the statutory agency effort, and all those within the police who have given their time to ensure the homes were safe.”

The DUP councillor said it would be unfair to characterise the preparations as an over-reaction.

“I think that would breed complacency,” he said.

“Anyone here on Friday would have seen there were centimetres in it – between the water remaining in the river and coming over the bank.

“The potential for flooding on Friday, and even today [Monday], was a real one – it was considerable.

“And if the water was to tip over, there would have been serious danger.

“So I don’t think you can ever over-react in that sense.”

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers said: “I really want to congratulate all the emergency services, and the community and volunteers who worked so hard over the last number of days because the big fear was we were going to have flooding in this district yet again.”

Alliance MP Naomi Long expressed her thanks to all involved in the effort to prevent flooding in Sydenham.

“There was a huge amount of effort involved in Sydenham to get the area ready for a flood that luckily did not materialise,” she said.

“I would advise residents still in possession of sandbags not contaminated by floodwater to store them somewhere dry for future use, as we are not out of the winter yet. If this is not possible, they can spread the sand on their gardens or return the sandbags to a local recycling centre, where they can be dealt with.”

The 45,000 sandbags were distributed in at-risk areas across Northern Ireland.

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Belfast City Council, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, the Rivers Agency, Belfast Health Trust, Road Service, Northern Ireland Water, Northern Ireland Electricity, British Telecom and travel operator Translink were all involved in the PSNI-led response.

On Sunday night, the police commander in charge of the multi-agency response, paid tribute to all of those who were involved.

ACC Stephen Martin said: “The past few days have been extremely challenging and I’m relieved that the coastal flooding was not as severe as had been anticipated initially.

“I am pleased with how quickly agencies across Northern Ireland reacted to the emergency situation and formed a co-ordinated response team. We must always plan effectively to protect our communities, and thankfully on this occasion the worst did not happen.

“This truly was a multi-agency operation and we relied on a number of organisations to make sure that we had the right information, expertise and experience to minimise any risk and impact from the flooding.

“An example of this is that, over the course of this operation, we have used 45,000 sandbags to bolster defences, protect key infrastructure sites and help to secure homes.”