Relief over tidal surges defence
5:17pm Monday 6th January 2014
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 Police Service of Northern Ireland (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 this 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 effo rt, the statutory agency effort, and all those within the police who have given their time to ensure the homes were safe."
The Democratic Unionist 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, 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."
Ulster Unionist 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."
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.