Water has destroyed houses, making people and animals ill as misery seeps everywhere
IN SHANNON Harbour, flooded-out farmers are clinging on in Third-World conditions, sleeping rough in wrecked houses where water with floating dead rodents reaches half-way up to the countertops.
They are risking their health and – with parts of their fields flooded to eight feet – their lives because they are afraid to leave their cattle, and they fear looters. They are constantly wet and cold.
As they stand thigh-deep in cold brackish water in what was once a well-tended dry farmyard – now a stranded island where a herd of cows huddle – three farmers talk about their plight with expressions of utter despair, desolation and hopelessness.
They have been struggling for 10 days against the floods, without State help, without warmth and with little sleep, and they say they have nowhere to turn.
“We are refugees, and no assistance is being offered to any of us,” says Tom Guinan, who is living – without water, electricity, a way to eat breakfast, or toilet facilities – on the top floor of a house where the ground floor has already been destroyed. His land is worthless now, and he thinks his only future is to emigrate.
At Paddy Towey's farm nearby, a dead calf lies in a trailer. A third of his cattle have had to be treated for pneumonia. Producing a vet's bill, he says he can't afford to pay it, and he has only 10 days of feed left because hundreds of bales have been destroyed. His cut turf is saturated. If the water rises another 12 inches – which he fears will happen, as waters continue to rise even as he stands there talking – his cattle will drown, unless something is done. And yet, he says helplessly, nobody is doing anything.
“Ten days ago, the water started coming into the houses,” says Towey, who has slept only four nights in a dry bed, offered by four different friends, in the past week. “My livelihood is gone. I don't know what to do or where I'm going. I have no options. The Irish Farmers' Association are advising me to sell the cattle and go – no one will buy the land. This has got to stop. The human suffering is too much. It can't be allowed to go on. It's unbelievable.”
Towey's house, a former post office, has never flooded before so, 18 months ago, he refurbished it, but he was unable to obtain insurance. He sees his circumstances growing bleaker by the day, despite his efforts to rescue his farm. “The water has risen four inches today because the ESB just released water off the lake,” he says.
During a brief visit to the town by the Taoiseach yesterday, Towey pushed his way through the handlers, not to plead his own case, but to seek help for his aunt, Lucy Egan (85), who was living in her flooded house on the main street until he was finally able to get Health Service Executive (HSE) community respite care for her on Sunday night.
On Tuesday morning, the HSE rang to say they were sending her home, to a house where the water was constantly rising and has reached the level of the windowsills. He was informed that she would have to go to a private nursing home at a cost of ¤700 per week. After intervention from the IFA's Michael Silke, the respite care centre has agreed to continue accommodating her and to review her case today.