ENVIRONMENT Minister Alex Attwood has paid a visit to farmers in the Feystown area who were left snowbound following the severe weather that blasted through parts of the borough last month.
The Minister was joined by local councillors – including Larne Mayor Gerardine Mulvenna – and council staff, who described how the council had co-ordinated a multi-agency emergency response to the snow crisis, which included search and rescue teams, Roads Service, police, NIE and other emergency services.
Mr Attwood’s visit took place on Friday, one week after the heavy snow storms had struck and left many rural roads impassible. And the Minister told the Larne Times he was “very impressed” by the progress that had been made in clearing roads and laneways.
He added: “I salute the efficiency and success of Larne Borough Council’s emergency response and have been impressed with the speed and commitment of their operation in providing timely support to those most affected by the harsh weather, which left families isolated without power, medical aid and food supplies.
“It is a credit to the local council that it was so proactive in its response and unstinting in its efforts to ensure those who were vulnerable were reached and assisted.
“I would like to pay tribute to the chief executive of Larne Council, Geraldine McGahey for her tireless efforts in coordinating the emergency response and to her team who I witnessed working long hours to ensure help was delivered where it was needed.
“Most especially, I want to recognise the terrific spirit in our local people who reached out to their neighbours to provide whatever help they could give.”
Mr Attwood’s first port of call during his visit was with Feystown farmer Fiona McAllister, who had been stranded without electricity for three days after the blizzard hit.
While Fiona’s laneway had been almost completely cleared of snow, there were still signs of the horrendous weather conditions that had prevailed just days earlier, with vehicles buried under huge drifts up to 15ft high.
A shocked Mr Attwood said: “You really have to see this with your own eyes to believe it; the sheer scale of it is unreal.
“The heavy snow has had a devastating effect on this rural community, but I am heartened to see how Larne Council and local people have responded in this crisis.”
Thanking the Minister for his support and comments, Mayor Mulvenna said: “This is a wonderful example of local government working across the community serving local people with the support of central government behind it. We very much value the Minister’s recognition of our efforts in Larne and are grateful to him for enabling us to meet the additional costs involved.”
Mr Attwood confirmed that his Department would be assisting the council to meet the costs of the additional demands of the emergency response.
He added that there were lessons to be learned from this crisis which could enable the Government, local authorities and other agencies to be better prepared should it happen again.
“It is commendable that Larne Council staff have taken on the role of co-ordinating the response during this crisis, but weather patterns are changing and we need to have people working on an emergency response on a full-time basis,” Mr Attwood concluded.