Cork floods 2009: Remembering one of the city's worst disasters ten years on

Cork floods 2009: Remembering one of the city's worst disasters ten years on
People being transported in towards the city through the flooded Carrigrohane Road in November 2009.

The 10th anniversary of one of the most catastrophic events ever to hit Cork city will be marked in the coming days.

As a low lying city built on a marsh, Cork has always been particularly susceptible to flooding, but 2009 brought the worst the city has ever seen.

Flooding near the Courthouse in Cork.
Flooding near the Courthouse in Cork.

The floods of ten years ago were described as a "once in a thousand years disaster".

On November 19-20, the River Lee violently burst its banks following weeks of heavy rainfall, high tides, and a decision taken by the ESB, on safety grounds, to release millions of tonnes of water from the Inniscara Dam, eight miles west of Cork city.

Flooding on Washington Street and Little Hanover Street.
Flooding on Washington Street and Little Hanover Street.

The resulting torrent was of the order of three million tonnes – three times the volume of water flowing through the Mississippi on a daily basis.

Quay walls collapsed and floodwaters swirled through the city's streets, destroying hundreds of properties, crippling the water supply, triggering a civic emergency, and causing an estimated €100m in damage.

Cork city fire brigade transport doctors and nurses to the Mercy Hospital. 
Cork city fire brigade transport doctors and nurses to the Mercy Hospital. 

The Kingsley Hotel, County Hall, the Mercy Hospital and UCC properties, such as the Glucksman Gallery, were among the landmarks institutions devastated by the floods.

The Mercy had to be partially evacuated while homes and businesses across the western half of the city centre were under several feet of water.

A flooded Grand Parade in the Cork city floods. 
A flooded Grand Parade in the Cork city floods. 

The river exploded onto the streets around Grenville Place, with waist-high waters pouring through the city's heart.

Emergency services used boats to take people to safety and the army was deployed to help the recovery operation and to ensure the hospital was kept operational.

The floods buckled the city's water treatment plant, leaving it inoperable. More than 60,000 city residents found themselves without drinking water supplies.

A Lorry making waves.
A Lorry making waves.

Some were left without normal supplies for weeks.

Also contributing to the severity of the floods was the fact that "in many areas, soils were already saturated by the heavy rainfall of the preceding days and weeks" which affected the soils "ability to absorb further rainfall", UCC expert, Paul Leahy wrote on November 2009.

UCC was closed for a week following the floods, with one-third of its 80-acre campus underwater and 29 buildings suffering damage.

County Hall was also closed as well as dozens of schools and businesses.

Flooding at the Courthouse Cork.
Flooding at the Courthouse Cork.

Many business and property owners complained that no warning was given and they were left unprepared for the events that unfolded. 

Before releasing water from the dam, the ESB said:

"ESB is warning of the danger of severe flooding of the Lee Valley between the Inniscarra Dam and Cork city, approximately eight miles away.

"Given the scale of the water volumes entering the lakes - the largest seen in modern times- it is necessary to discharge flood waters accordingly through the dams."

Flooding on Carrigrohane Road and the Lee Fields area
Flooding on Carrigrohane Road and the Lee Fields area

Long-running legal battles followed in the years after, with the ESB blamed by many for its decision to release the water.

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