Northern Ireland

Downpatrick left ‘hopeless’ by floods, as water fails to recede

Floods in Downpatrick town centre show little sign of subsiding (Claudia Savage/PA)
Floods in Downpatrick town centre show little sign of subsiding (Claudia Savage/PA)

Business owners and residents in Downpatrick have said the town is left feeling “hopeless” by flooding that has shown little sign of subsiding.

Efforts to remove to manually remove floodwater with pumps have not been able to begin due to persistent high water levels in the River Quoile, which runs beside the town.

Downpatrick has been described as being like a bowl, with flood water unable to flow out of the town centre.

Floods in Downpatrick town centre, where high-water levels mean manual removal is yet to begin (Claudia Savage/PA)

A number of businesses along the main street have been flooded with up to 10 feet of water, with owners unable to enter to assess the damage and employees with no idea when they will return to work.

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At the perimeters of the flood, where the water has slightly receded, muck and litter left behind offers a glimpse into the future clean-up operation Downpatrick residents will have to face.

Signs show how little the flood water in Downpatrick has subsided (Claudia Savage/PA)

Paul Hamill is the owner of a barbershop on Market Lane, adjacent to Market Street, one of the worst affected areas of the town.

Mr Hamill said he would not be able to do business again until the water completely recedes.

“I’m lucky that it has receded just enough to get me and my colleagues in to help me clear it out, it’s devastating for the town, absolutely devastating,” he said.

He added: “Being this far up the town, Market Lane, we thought we might just be lucky enough to get away with it not flooding, but as the hours passed, it just ebbed in further and further.”

With the water receded slightly from Thursday, Mr Hamill was beginning to clean out his shop with the help of local business owners who were not yet able to enter their own premises.

He said that the damages combined with loss of earnings could cost his business £10,000, but that he was one of the lucky ones.

He added: “I’m fortunate to have been so far up the town where the water hasn’t risen too far.

“That’s off the top of my head. I don’t know if there is structural damage done to the building. But yes, further down the town, it’s just devastating, devastating for the business owners.”

Paul Hamill estimates that the damage caused by floods to his barbershop could cost £10,000 (Claudia Savage/PA)

Dr Tim Campbell is the director of the Saint Patrick Centre, where staff were offering hot drinks and sandwiches to workers salvaging what could be saved from their businesses on Friday.

Dr Campbell said the town felt “hopeless”.

“All we can do is watch the tide rise,” he said.

“So, the centre we’re very lucky to be a few feet above this devastating flood that’s hit the businesses in Downpatrick and we’re trying to help out as much as we can.”

Dr Tim Campbell director of the Saint Patrick Centre beside floods in Downpatrick (Claudia Savage/PA)

Dr Campbell said the town now “desperately needs to look at the flood defences”.

“Downpatrick was recently a port town and we put barrage on the Quoile River in 1930, and we have done some flood diversification since that, but we need to have another look at it because obviously the town is changing,” he said.

“And you can see the devastation that happens whenever we get to a situation where the heaviest rainfall that’s ever been recorded in the last month.”

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard also said the town had been devastated and that frustration with the lack of decrease in the water levels was beginning to set in.

“Speaking to business owners there, some of these units are under eight to 10 feet of water,” he said.

“Unfortunately, because of the geographical situation in Downpatrick, it’s like a bowl and the Quoile River has burst its banks on the periphery of the town so we can’t get the water out from the town centre, so obviously that brings then the frustration, standing here just watching the water.

“And even since the stop the rain has stopped, it’s only really receded the number of feet back on the road. So it’s not going anywhere.

“So the agencies and the departments are working to try and see can we get the Quoile down so we can pump this water out as soon as possible.”

The town has been described as being like a ‘bowl’, meaning the water cannot get out (Claudia Savage/PA)

Mr Hazzard said despite the frustration, it may be Saturday before the water can start to be pumped out of the town.

“We don’t want to be in a situation, as some other places in the North, where they pumped out too soon and it all came back in again,” he said.

“So it may be the situation that we have to wait, maybe the rest of the day, maybe even into tomorrow, if that’s the situation. We want to get it right.”

Mr Hazzard said he would be travelling to London on Monday to make the case to the UK government for a “significant recovery package”.

He said: “£2000 or £5000, well that’s good to get some equipment to help the team but that is not going to get a business back on its feet.

“Downpatrick town centre is a number of local independent retailers. They’re the heart of our community. They’ve been here for decades, sometimes generations.

“These shops will not reopen again unless we get a significant recovery package in place and that’s what we’re making the case for.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said that ‘nature has thrown everything at us here’ (Claudia Savage/PA)

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the town centre had been “underwater” since the floods hit on Wednesday and there was little sign of improvement.

“The water hasn’t subsided, it’s stubborn, it’s sitting here, and we need to be able to get moved so that businesses can get in and assess the damage and see what they can do to get opened again,” he said

Mr McGrath said that because Downpatrick is below sea level it regularly experiences floods, but that the water levels of the past week were “the biggest events that we’ve had of that.”

“If we can get the water levels down, then the fire service, council and others will actually pump the water out, which means that it should start to move quickly once they can begin that operation.

“But really nature has thrown everything at us here so we have to do everything that we can to try and fight back at it,” he said.

Hope in Downpatrick is fading, says Mr McGrath (Claudia Savage/PA).

Mr McGrath said that hope in the town had “probably faded over the last couple of days”.

“But I know that the community will rally together, that business owners will come together, the elected representatives from right across the parties will come together and we’ll make sure that that hope is reinstated,” he said.

The Department for Infrastructure said that “every effort is being made to begin pumping as soon as possible, as the department and our multi-agency partners are keen to do all that we can to reduce the impacts of the flooding in Downpatrick”.