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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Flood-hit hospital was built on site of ancient dam

Greg Harkin

Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30

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A HOSPITAL ravaged in two separate floods was built on the site where a dam and corn mills operated in the 19th century, maps obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.

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Health Minister Leo Varadkar has ordered an investigation into the second flooding incident at Letterkenny General Hospital in a year.

Insurance companies paid out €34m to repair the Co Donegal hospital after the July 2013 downpour, but damage caused on Tuesday night was said by managers to be ‘negligible’.

However, locals  are questioning if the rebuild should ever have gone ahead considering the history of the site.

An Ordnance Survey map from 1914 shows what stood on the site of the hospital in the previous century; two corn mills powered by a dam filled by the now notorious Spack Burn stream.

Despite this in August 1960 when the county hospital closed and the new general hospital was being built, this site was chosen.

The hospital has had to deal with a dozen minor floods over the past half century, culminating in last July’s devastating flood.

A flood defence system put in place on a culvert which caused the previous flood did work this time around.

However, water from a main road at the other side of the hospital campus ripped up a tarmac access route to the newly refurbished Emergency Department which sits in a ‘bowl’ at the bottom of a steep hill.

The water then poured into a carpark and under the doors, but was quickly mopped up by front-line staff.

Maintenance workers, cleaners and nurses threw down makeshift barriers using sheets and blankets whilst sandbags were quickly erected to prevent any further damage.

“It is not enough to say that this flooding wasn’t a fault in the Spack Burn culvert, the fact that the hospital’s new A&E building has been flooded twice in just over a year means serious questions must be answered regarding this building,” said Betty Holmes, a cancer survivor who has campaigned for better resources for the hospital.

“Once again staff, patients and their families have been badly hit by a flood.”

Charlie Flood (80) worked installing sewage and water pipes in Letterkenny in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The whole town needs re-engineered,” he said.

“The problem is that there has been a lot of developments over the years and the force of nature dictates that water from higher up the road has to go somewhere.

“I suspect a lot of that rain went straight into the sewage system and not into the storm drains and it just couldn’t cope.

“I remember the hospital being built but it was a much smaller affair back then in the 1960s. Since then the campus has expanded substantially and you have to say it can’t cope.

“The whole water drainage system needs to be looked at throughout Letterkenny. This will happen again.”

However, Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Independent: “The investigation is obviously at a very early stage but the culvert was not blocked this time.

“Last year on July 26 the main cause of the flooding incident was the fact that the screens became blocked and prevented water from entering the culvert causing the Sprack Burn tributary to overflow, wiping out 40pc of the floor space of the hospital and eliminating more than 70pc of the hospital’s capacity at that time.

“This latest incident was considerably less than last year’s and the Emergency Department was re-opened after three hours with no other hospital services affected.”

Hospital manager Sean Murphy said that “one positive” was that the flood defences on the stream – which include a JCB hired out at a cost of €455 per week  – did work this time.

“It appears that the interim flood management measures worked well as the culvert was kept clear and other steps such as sandbagging of vulnerable areas were put into place,” said Mr Murphy.

“We will publish the conclusions of our investigation – as we did with the flood management strategy and two engineering reports from the previous incident – and we will review the flood management strategy in light of the new findings.

“We are not going to speculate as to what these findings will be. We will publish the result of the investigation as soon as is feasible. More than anyone else in Donegal, we want answers.”

He praised hospital staff, gardaí, the ambulance and fire services for their work on Tuesday night.

The floods caused significant damage across a wide area of north Donegal with roads closed and bridges damaged.

Donegal County Council last night closed a road in Fanad over fears a bridge there could collapse.

Dozens of homes in Letterkenny and Ramelton were flooded during the downpour, with damage to roads in many areas.

Irish Independent

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