Streets awash as the heavens open

Raw sewage coated the streets of West Belfast this week as torrential downpours played havoc with the city’s overworked and inefficient drainage system.

Most areas were affected to some extent, with the Poleglass, Dunmurry, Lenadoon and Finaghy Road North areas receiving the worst of the flooding as man-hole covers failed to hold the flood waters beneath the streets, bursting open and expelling excrement and waste along with a disgusting stench.

Carolyn McDonnell, who was stranded along with her young son James in her Laurelbank home, had to spend the morning indoors as she waited for the Water Service to arrive to pump away the floodwaters that had reached her front door.

“I like it here, I like the house and I’m only round the corner from my mum,” said Carolyn who has only recently moved into her Poleglass home. “But I couldn’t live with this, they can suck the water up time and time again but we need a long-term solution.

“The Housing Executive just said it’s not their problem and advised me to get house insurance.”

“James can’t get out to play, and even in light rain that whole corner floods. I need this fixed before winter, before it floods all the time.”

And Carolyn’s next-door neighbour, Rosaleen Walsh, is only too familiar with the severe flooding that has affected her and her daughter, who suffers severe learning disabilities, for many years.

“I’ve been living in Laurelbank for 20 years, and every time it rains heavily this is what happens. The last time we had the Water Service out they gave us those sandbags and said there was nothing they could do about it.

“I’ve been ringing the Water Service and Lisburn Council and they keep passing me on from one to the other, and then they send that big thing out that sucks the water away, and then when it rains heavily again, it all builds up once again.

“A few years ago a fella came out with that suction machine and he said that we’d need a couple more drains. All the water is coming from the top of the street and there are no drains all the way down. There’s only one drain in that corner and it just keeps overflowing,” said Mrs Walsh.

“My daughter Patricia is in the care centre at the Dairy Farm and it’s affected her getting there many’s a time. When the bus came this morning we had to take her out the back and she didn’t know what was happening.”

Children on their summer holidays splashed in the deep ponds created by the flooding on some of West Belfast’s main roads, excited by the novelty of the firemen and fire engines attending the scenes, and unaware of the severe health dangers presented to them by floating sewage and uncovered manholes in their streets.

Fire officers from the Cadogan Fire Station on the Lisburn Road pumped out drains during the first of many call-outs to clear flooded main roads and help ease the ensuing traffic congestion, taking half an hour to clear the huge rivers of water resulting from the failure of storm drains to cope with the downpours.

Upset and angered by the damage caused to their homes by the overnight rainfall, senior residents of the Lenadoon area spoke with frustration and disgust at how their problems were being dealt with.

“I’ve lived here for five years,” said 60-year-old Brendan Gough, who has recently spent over £1,000 of his savings on decorating his home and laying new wooden floors. “The place is just destroyed, all this flooring is going to have to come up now because there’s sewage underneath it.

“The Housing Executive, the Council, the Water Service – no one will take it on as their problem, they’re all passing the buck. The manhole lifted with the pressure of the water and whatever gunge was in there came back into here, there was even toilet paper floating in the hall this morning.

“They offered to lift the floor, but who’ll pay to have it laid again? The Fire Brigade had to come out this morning because the electric box was in the hall and the water was just lapping at the doors. The electric’s back on again now, but wait until the heating is back on and then there’ll be the smell.”

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said, “If tenants have water ingression or damage to their Housing Executive property the Housing Executive will attend these homes and willingly help residents with the clean-up. However, damage caused by a main drain or sewage system overflow is the responsibility of the DoE and they should be contacted to deal with the problem.”

The Housing Executive also said that the insurance of personal property is crucial but that currently only 23 per cent of their tenants have opted to insure their homes against loss.

A spokesperson for the Department of Regional Development’s Water Service said, “Emergency procedures were implemented and staff, contractors and additional customer services staff were mobilised by the Rivers Agency, Water Service and Roads Service to deal with the flooding problems in the worst-affected areas in West and South Belfast.

“Gully-cleaning machines, jetters and squads cleared floods and placed sandbags.”

But with the Met Office issuing a severe weather warning across the whole of the North for the tail end of the week, further flooding looks likely as Belfast’s drainage system struggles to cope with the continuing downpours. Residents who have suffered from the flooding this week can only hope for the best and brace themselves for more misery.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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