Clean up begins after Northern Ireland floods

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A major clean-up operation will begin today after widespread flooding caused havoc throughout Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, with residents evacuated from their homes and emergency services inundated with calls.

The newly-built Broadway underpass road in Belfast was under 15ft of water yesterday as Dublin authorities put a crisis management team on standby.

Numerous major roads across the island were closed to traffic while a train derailed in Co Laois after downpours there sparked a landslide onto the track.

Several sporting fixtures on both sides of the border had to be called off.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said rivers had burst their banks, two bridges collapsed and 37 major roads were shut down throughout the day.

The main M1 motorway was closed at one stage for Belfast-bound traffic from Sprucefield.

Police last night urged motorists not to drive anywhere unless the journey was extremely urgent.

"The floods are all over Northern Ireland," said a police spokeswoman.

"Portglenone and Aghadowey are practically cut off, it seems.

"There have been several landslides, including one about one mile from the Spelga Dam on the Slievemaman Road in Newcastle, Co Down."

Newcastle Town Hall and the town's Presbyterian church were opened as shelters for those affected by the floods, as was Watty Grahams GAA club in Maghera, Co Derry.

The make-shift shelters were providing hot food, drinks and blankets.

Two bridges collapsed because of the downpours - one at Fairy Glen, Rostrevor, Co Down and one on the Lurgan to Cahone road at Rathisland.

The police said it was among the worst flooding seen in recent times.

"There were severe flash floods last year that seemed to affect pockets but this hit all of Northern Ireland," the spokeswoman said.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said not a single fire appliance was free across the province as it was swamped with call-outs.

There was ground-floor flooding at homes in Down, Armagh and Belfast, where some residents in the east of the city had to seek out emergency accommodation in the Avoneil Leisure Centre.

NI Water, the Roads Service and Rivers Agencies, were responding to thousands of calls yesterday.

The Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod, Co Antrim, was cancelled as were several soccer fixtures in the Carnegie Irish Premier Division in Northern Ireland and the Republic's FAI Ford Cup.

The Midlands and Kilkenny were among the worst hit regions south of the border, with serious flooding affecting parts of Kildare, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary and Laois.

Several roads, including the M4 between Maynooth and Kilcock were impassable due to heavy flooding.

Sandbags were handed out to residents in parts of Co Wicklow, with further flooding feared there during tonight's high tide.

Dublin City Council said its crisis management team was on standby to put in place whatever measures are needed.

Met Eireann has issued a severe weather warning which is valid until Monday.