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Criticism of Council's response to Skibb floods

December 26th, 2016 2:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Anna Walsh from Newbridge Park, Skibbereen shows the level reached at her front door by water, last Thursday.

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A SKIBBEREEN woman who battled the elements last Thursday afternoon in a bid to stop her home from being flooded has criticised Cork County Council for its delay in responding to her crisis.

The owners of businesses at Cork Road also said they contacted the Council at 4pm but didn’t get a response, other than to say their message was being passed on, and to direct them to the Council yard where they could collect sandbags and bollards.

In the face of the rising waters around their business, the businessmen collected the sandbags, which they used to protect their property, and placed the bollards around the manhole covers and gullies that they themselves opened.

Skibbereen resident, Anna Walsh, who had two bouts of pneumonia last year, told The Southern Star she was soaked to the skin as she frantically brushed the rising water from her front door at 13 Newbridge Park in Skibbereen on the afternoon of December 15th.

She said: ‘I made two distress calls shortly after 2.30pm and told the Council that the two drains at either side of my house had badly overflowed because there was a river of water flowing into Newbridge Park from the main road.’

She said she told them that she was 20 minutes away from being flooded and although two members of the Council’s staff did arrive at 3pm it wasn’t until 3.50pm that the Council van, carrying sandbags, arrived.

Anna Walsh said it was her neighbours Alex McIntyre and Stephen Casserly who unloaded the sandbags and placed them at her front door ‘just in the nick of time.’ She also credited them with opening the drain covers at the back of her house, which resulted in the floodwater flowing into them ‘like Niagara Falls.’

Although Anna Walsh was able to save her home, another person living in Newbridge Park wasn’t so lucky and the water poured into Number 15 while the owner was out. 

‘All this could have been avoided if the Council had reacted to my distress call immediately,’ Anna Walsh said.

She claimed the Council failed to respond in a swift and efficient manner, and outlined the fact that she has a long-term disability and arthritis. To be left in that situation last Thursday was deplorable, she said. 

‘I had to stand at my front door with a brush for over an hour sweeping the water, trying to keep it back. I was fit to collapse. Every muscle in my body was paining me and I cried with the pain and with the frustration. I could have had a stroke at the door because my blood pressure is sky high.’

However, Anna Walsh did acknowledge that the Council gave an undertaking to clean the area on Friday and they followed through on that commitment.

She said the Fire Brigade also arrived on the scene on Thursday afternoon and helped to pump the water.

Meanwhile, Paul Connolly of the Spar and Great Gas service station at Cork Road, outlined the difficulty he and other business people in the area were faced with after run-off from the nearby hills poured into his forecourt.

‘The storm drains couldn’t cope with the amount of water coming off the hill. Every time there is a deluge, this happens.’

He said: ‘The culvert is huge but the pipe leading off it is only nine inches apparently. It would be good if they remedied that. It might be a solution to the problem.’

The owner of another business said they rang the Council on a number of occasions after 4pm and were told that their calls would be ‘passed on.’

The businessman said: ‘We rang the Council looking for help but when they didn’t turn up we decided to do something ourselves. We were told we could get sandbags and bollards at the Council yard so we got those and lifted two manhole covers at Cork Road and all of the gullies at the side of the road.’

When they opened the storm drain, he said the volume of water coming off the land eased but luckily so, too, had the rain and their businesses were not flooded on this occasion.

Secretary of Skibbereen Floods committee, Cathal O’Donovan, said: ‘The €18m flood relief scheme has got off to a good start, but the fact remains: we are going to be vulnerable for the next two and a half years until the scheme is finished. We have to maintain the same degree of vigilance and resilience that we have had in the past. We have to be prepared.’

The complaints made by Anna Walsh were put to Cork County Council and the local authority issued the following reply: ‘The complainant in question, in Newbridge Park, was not flooded.  Council staff called to this estate as soon as was possible, following the call. 

‘There were numerous issues all over the town and surrounding area. Council staff were attending to various localised flooding issues and delivering sandbags to various areas. Council staff also contacted the Fire Brigade who assisted. 

‘The Fire Brigade pumped water from the garden of the house that was flooded in Newbridge Park, after Council staff had sandbagged the area to prevent further ingress of water.  The Fire Brigade helped to clean out the house and Council staff cleaned the area outside the three properties in Newbridge Park, removing any rubbish and debris.

‘Upon delivery of the sandbags to Newbridge Park, Council staff put them into place and the lady’s neighbours also assisted.  At one point, Council staff were required to move some of the sandbags that neighbours had placed as they were protecting this property but forcing the water into other properties.

‘The rainfall levels varied hugely in areas – one recording in town was 47mm, Ballyhilty 37mm and in the catchment above Skibbereen it was in the region of 25mm; making it very difficult to determine what areas will be affected until such time as flooding begins. 

‘Cork County Council staff were on standby and had sandbags filled etc.   The Council follows the Emergency Response Plan where necessary and have set procedures in place.  Flooding is unpredictable, for example, in the case of Newbridge Park, where surface water from private property flowed over the public road into Newbridge Park, causing flooding.  Sandbags have been left at that location for the Christmas period and it is intended to install ramps early in the New Year, with additional drainage gratings to prevent a reoccurrence.   

‘Cork County Council are investigating the origin of the surface water and while some drainage works have been carried out upstream, it would not cater for the level of surface water that came that day.

‘In relation to the issue at Cork Road, there are proposals to replace culverts under the N-71 and carry out works there to alleviate the problem there.’

The Council spokesperson also confirmed: ‘There will be staff on call over the Christmas Period.’

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