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Wednesday 1 October 2014

'Next thing, it was a torrent of water'

Published 09/02/2014 | 02:30

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Litter Warden Noel Long organises 'swell bags' with Barry Keating in Mc Sweeney's Photo Shop, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork before the expected flood
Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Litter Warden Noel Long organises 'swell bags' with Barry Keating in Mc Sweeney's Photo Shop, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork

AT 10pm, Barry Keating heaved a sigh of relief. But just 24 hours later the manager of MacSweeny's PhotoShop could only shrug in despair as he realised his flood luck had just run out.

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Oliver Plunkett Street, the retail heart of Cork city centre, had been transformed in the space of 45 minutes into a raging torrent which was over one metre (3ft) deep in parts as the River Lee tidal floods made a mockery of the scant protection offered by century-old quay walls. Barry's store at 88 Oliver Plunkett Street was left under almost one metre of stinking flood water, with valuable stock ruined and expensive equipment badly damaged.

"I don't think anyone who didn't see it for themselves could possibly have believed it," he told the Sunday Independent. "One minute the street was normal and the next thing it was under a torrent of water. It was like a river out there."

Barry watched on Monday night as the floods reached the top of the door sill leading into his shop – and sighed in relief as the waters stopped just centimetres short of pouring in. His relief was tempered by the realisation that some of his retail neighbours weren't so lucky.

"I think we all knew it was going to be a different story on Tuesday night. The (Cork) City Council had issued a more severe flood alert and we knew the water was going to reach a good bit higher. But I still thought we would be OK with all the preparations we had put in," he said.

Barry and his staff had a flood gate in place and bolstered that with a dam created by multiple sandbags.

"I wasn't taking any chances so, believe it or not, I decided to use silicon gel to seal up the front door. I thought that might help keep the waters out."

Barry heeded council advice to have someone by the premises from 7pm on Tuesday to monitor the flood situation. At 8pm, drains began to slowly cough filthy flood water on to Oliver Plunkett Street. By 8.20pm, large puddles had formed along the length of the street.

But by 8.30pm traders, gardai and council staff knew they were in serious trouble as a one-metre tidal surge swept over the south channel quays of the River Lee, turning Fr Mathew Quay and Morrisson's Quay into lakes before sweeping across the South Mall and Grand Parade into Oliver Plunkett Street.

Pembroke Street, which links the South Mall to Oliver Plunkett Street, became a raging torrent which eventually saw flood waters spill out across the entire width of Patrick Street.

"The water poured past everything we had put in place. It ended up being two feet deep or more inside the shop. It was three feet deep out on the street because there is a good step up into our shop and it surged past that like it wasn't even there."

Irish Independent

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