Businesses in Skibbereen have been left devastated by extensive flood damage caused when Storm Ellen swept the town last night.
The OPW has insisted that the flooding “was not from the main River Ilen” and there is “no question of failure of the main flood relief scheme defences in the town” but locals and public representatives have raised serious concerns about the cause of the flooding.
Senator Tim Lombard is calling on the Minister for Local Government to carry out a full independent investigation which he said “needs to be published” after he learned that a trash screen, which was previously due to be installed, is only now being put in place at an area known locally as The Cutting in Skibbereen.
He said that it is “unacceptable that these emergency works are being carried out in such a reactive emergency way when the damage has been caused”.
“There is a duty of care to homeowners and businesses in Skibbereen to have cleared culverts and drains," he said. “The reason this was done according to my face to face conversation with a Cork County Council [official] was Covid-19.
“This is not acceptable as Government directives at the beginning of lockdown were that vital infrastructure works such as water and power could continue."
Cork County Council Divisional Manager West Cork, Clodagh Henehan, told The Echo: “The minor works contract for an upgrade to the screen was interrupted due to the Covid-19 restrictions which affected all construction in the first half of 2020 and as a result the permanent fitting of the screen which arrived for installation this week. Following the recent weather and storm warnings from Met Éireann it was necessary to delay the installation of the screen until weather conditions improved.”
She said that separately, the County Engineer noted that “acute localised rainfall was the main factor in the flooding as it overwhelmed the drainage system at this location”.
“The extreme rainfall occurred during the period of red alert for Storm Ellen and in line with health and safety protocols Council staff were unable to respond to non-life threatening emergencies for the duration of the red alert,” she said.
As a result of the floods, the Eldon Hotel on Bridge Street in Skibbereen suffered serious damage, with flood waters reaching the height of the window sills.
Owner of the hotel, Eileen O’Donovan, said that she was “devastated” after being hit with the damaging floods, having only reopened the hotel’s doors on June 29 after months of closure due to Covid-19.
“We’re just getting back on our feet after Covid-19 and now we have to face this too,” she told The Echo.
Ms O’Donovan said that the water was the height of the window sills and that a manhole at the front of the building was “closed solid” and so the water had nowhere to go.
“The whole place is ruined, there’s dirt everywhere and there’s so much cleaning to do. All the curtains and the floors and everything are absolutely filthy with dirt, you wouldn't believe the amount of dirt that came in with the floods,” she said.
Ms O’Donovan also expressed her frustration at Cork County Council, who she said arrived with sandbags at 1.15am on Thursday morning when the damage had already been done.
She commended the community of Skibbereen who rallied together on Wednesday night and again on Thursday morning in an effort to clean up and help one anothers’ businesses during their time of need.
“We’ll be here all day cleaning up, we have cleaners and electricians because the sockets in the front are blown too,” she said.
Angela Hurley of Annie Mays bar, restaurant and B&B, said that Wednesday night’s flooding “shouldn’t have happened at all”.
Ms Hurley said her business was not affected by the flooding due to its location on higher ground on Bridge Street but that she has often given long nights helping people clean up after floods in the town down through the years.
“I’d be so upset I could hardly think, you couldn't even think about the flooding at times,” she said.
Honeybee Hair and Beauty on the same street in the town also escaped the flooding but employee Alice Calnan who lives close by said that her apartment suffered some damage.
“We’re lucky in our hallway it’s concrete but when you brush it, it’s just pure muck, we’ve cleaned it three or four times and it’s still not right.”
She said that for businesses of the town especially, “it’s enough to be going through a pandemic” and that “you don't expect this on top of it then too”.
Independent TD Michael Collins said that the flooding was a “very disappointing” occurrence that has raised many questions that he will be asking the OPW after “at least six or seven business were badly flooded”.
Deputy Collins also raised concerns over Cork County Council’s emergency number which he said failed to work during the floods.
“I had businesses getting onto me on Wednesday night who needed help and I was ringing the council’s emergency number and while I did get an answer at 11.30pm, I was told I would be contacted back by somebody on the ground and it never happened so is it working or isn't it working?
“It’s supposed to be an overnight emergency number and someone answers you and says someone on the ground will ring to find out what assistance is needed and you can’t get an answer back. If the emergency number is in operation it should work, otherwise don't put it there,” he said.
Senator Lombard said that Bandon’s Flood Relief Scheme was effective during Storm Ellen and that water began pooling at Brady's Lane and Hickeys Corner at 10.30pm but shortly afterward there was no surface water on the streets.
“In many ways the flood relief scheme in Bandon had its first major test last night and from what we have seen it has passed with flying colours. The pumps kicked in automatically when the surface water raised to a certain level and there was no damage to any major property.”
He said that last night was “bad but a good result for Bandon” while Skibbereen’s Flood Relief Scheme “needs to be questioned”.