Blast victim faces a bleak Christmas: David McKittrick meets a woman who has been forced to live in a mobile home since a bomb damaged her house

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IT HAS clearly all been too much for Margaret Chapman. She sits, grey-haired and wheezing asthmatically, in a damp mobile home talking of builders and assessors and loss adjustors and estimates and compensation. She is baffled by it all, fretting over bills and trying not to think of Christmas.

Her own house, a neat little modern terrace, is just round the corner. The IRA bomb which damaged it, and a thousand other houses and flats, exploded three months ago but repair work has yet to start on her property.

The roof is still off, the windows are still boarded up, and soggy furniture sits where it was tossed on the night of the blast. Many others in the district have made much more rapid progress, but Mrs Chapman is obviously out of her depth.

She will spend Christmas in a little compound of mobile homes which has been erected on some open space in Belvoir Park housing estate. A dozen families have been housed in this neat little shanty settlement, a parody of a seaside caravan site.

The bomb which devastated forensic science laboratories also damaged 1,002 homes, one hundred of them severely. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, following an effort which has been little short of heroic, recently announced that all its 574 tenants were now back in their homes.

The other 400-odd families, who owned their homes, have been affected in various ways. Some did not have to leave; some left and have now returned; some, like Mrs Chapman, cannot yet go back. In the beginning she hoped to be back home by Christmas, but now her target is Easter.

Belvoir Park is in a quiet area, sitting several miles outside Belfast on gentle hills which afford a panoramic view of the city. It was a model estate, which the Housing Executive always held up as an example of what an estate could be. Many families who moved there in the 1960s were thankful they left Belfast before the troubles started, and have stayed on. It thus has a large number of elderly and retired people.

Today Castledillon Road, which bore the brunt of the blast, is a site of desolation. Workmen are everywhere, dumping shattered material skips filled with rubble, plaster and broken timber. Unrepaired roofs are draped with incongruously gaudy yellow and orange tarpaulins which lend a dash of cheerless colour to the dismal scene.

There are 11 families in mobile homes, including Margaret Chapman and her two daughters. This Christmas she will try to keep warm, but is fearful that using the electric heater could bring in a bill she could not afford to pay.