INDEPENDENT MLA John McCallister has warned of a devastating outcome for many local farmers following the artic weather conditions at the weekend.
He said: “DRD were quick enough to clear the main roads and for that I congratulate them, but the more serious problems lay in the rural areas. In those areas such as Finnis, Dromara and Leitrim we had real life-threatening issues such as the elderly and most vulnerable cut off and animals trapped and dying.
“I feel that resources could have been deployed faster and I would like to know the extent of the co-ordination between DRD Roads and DARD. Was an emergency plan put into action? This weather was very well predicted, so in that respect I think we could have helped people quicker.
“I have spoken to many people over the weekend and heard harrowing tales of animals buried in drifts and elderly people with no light, heat or food. Thankfully neighbours helped where they could but it has been very stressful and difficult for many. The snow in areas such as Leitrim and Finnis had to be seen to be believed.
“ I went to the area on Sunday and couldn’t quite believe the height of the drifts, considering just a few miles away there was no snow at all. Locals were telling me they haven’t seen anything like this for 50 years.”
Mr McCallister said that one major problem affecting farmers in South Down was damage caused to sheds where roofs have caved in due to the sheer weight of snow.
“I know of about 16 farmers who have had sheds destroyed. What they need to do is contact their own insurers immediately and ask if they have storm damage cover. They will be covered up to the value on their policy, but my fear is quite a few won’t be covered.
“I will then be calling on the Minister for Agriculture to make emergency funds available. I have already been speaking to the Department of Agriculture today and pledge to give my support to all local farmers affected.
Mr McCallister said all efforts must continue to be made to get roads cleared as soon as possible. “With no thaw predicted in the next few days, we must rely on heavy snow moving machinery. I have been reassured early on Monday morning by Roads Service that ten diggers/shovels in addition to private contractors have been deployed to the Finnis and Leitrim area.
“Farmers on Lighthouse Road have been unable to get to animals and people have been blocked in their homes for four days.”
“I want to praise and thank the Road Service and NIE staff on the ground for their sterling efforts to clear roads and get power back to those affected.
“These engineers worked in extremely difficult conditions and I spoke to many who were completely exhausted. I also want to thank many local farmers who used their initiative and worked to help neighbours feed animals and dig their way out. Community spirit has never been higher and at times like this it is reassuring to know people will go that extra mile to help those in need.”
Anyone affected who needs advice can give me a call on 07833668602/43724400.