Cork city left under water as ESB opens floodgates
Utility firm says it wasn't its job to warn local residents
A STATE of emergency was declared in Cork last night after the ESB was forced to open dams which led to widespread flooding in the city.
ESB chiefs defended their actions, claiming they prevented an even greater flood from occurring.
But business and homeowners said they had little warning ahead of the flood that left three buildings in danger of collapse.
The ESB released "large volumes of water" from the dams at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid, about eight miles from the city centre.
A spokeswoman said that the issue of compensation for flooded homes and business premises "doesn't even arise".
"The action taken by the ESB mitigated damage very, very significantly, by at least a third, by managing the release of the water," she said.
Earlier, an ESB spokesman said it was not their responsibility to inform the residents of Cork city that they were releasing massive volumes of water from a dam.
He said: "It is not the ESB's role to manage an emergency situation like the rain or weather." He said it was not up to the ESB to inform residents, but up to the emergency services.
Around 700 local authority workers were evacuated from the iconic County Hall, one of the country's tallest buildings, after they became marooned by rising floodwaters.
A spokesperson for Cork County Council was unavailable last night.
Swollen waters ripped through a quay wall and caused damage to their foundations.
Three hundred students were evacuated from University College, Cork, and in surrounding residences after flooding damaged 14 of the campus buildings.
A total of 43 residents of the 100-year-old buildings at Grenville Place, opposite the Mercy Hospital, were evacuated and housed in temporary accommodation as city engineers assessed the damage.
Emergency workers had to ferry nurses and other staff to the Mercy Hospital to ensure patients were looked after.
Counting the cost of the devastation begins today as the Emergency Task Force meets to co-ordinate the response to the flooding disaster.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Environment Minister John Gormley, and senior government officials met at the purpose-built National Emergency Co-ordination Centre for the first time ever yesterday.
Mr Gormley, who visited Cork last night and is in Galway this morning, said it was "far too early" to consider compensation and stressed that "insurance companies have a heavy responsibility".
He said the Government will look "sympathetically" on the cost of the repair of damaged infrastructure. But he has given no specifics on a relief fund for affected families and businesses. And while insurance companies insisted it will be weeks before the full financial impact of the damage is known, one industry source said costs would far exceed the €100m paid out after the August 2008 flooding.
Although the clean-up got under way yesterday, residents were told to brace themselves for another deluge.
In a single day, 1,042 insurance claims were lodged with the country's biggest insurer Hibernian Aviva -- most of them relating to flood damage.
The Defence Forces have been working around the clock. Over 100 soldiers, 15 trucks, and four flat-bottomed boats helped to evacuate those stranded in Cork City and county, Ennis, Clonmel, and Ballinasloe yesterday.
The water supply to up to 50,000 people was cut off in Cork after fears that Lee pumping station had been contaminated.
Emergency water supplies were ferried to resident of Ballyvolane, Blackpool, Holly Hill, Gurraghnabraher, and the South Douglas Road via tanker.
At 10am yesterday, workers in ESB began to contact residents in the catchment of the dams, the local authorities and local media, to warn them of the fast rising water.
However, some residents in the city said they received no prior warning.
Dr Con Murphy, whose surgery is on Lancaster Quay in the city, said his offices were under two feet of water.
"My problem is that had I known this was coming I could have helped save some of the stuff from being destroyed," he said.
"I'm there over 30 years and this is the first time ever there was flooding."
He said he had "no idea" the water was coming and while he "absolutely" accepted that the ESB had to release the water, he was annoyed that more warning wasn't given.
The ESB spokeswoman said the release of the flood water was "ongoing" throughout the day.
Cork Business Association (CBA) said it had never experienced such devastation as when a city quay wall collapsed - diverting an entire channel of the River Lee down one of the city's busiest shopping streets.
North Main Street - packed with boutiques, cafes, pubs and general shops - was left under almost three feet of water at one point.
On the Western Road, a car ended up crashing through the front door of a café after getting caught in the flood torrent.
Cork's Lord Mayor, councillor Dara Murphy, said the scale of damage yesterday was "absolutely devastating".