Monday 27 January 2020

Paul Melia: We were lucky this time but the country faces further storms

Paul Melia

THE key message from this report is that we were lucky. We might not be so lucky the next time.

It is only down to the tireless efforts of emergency services on the ground that extensive loss of life and serious injuries were avoided during the November floods and big freeze of December and January.

Unprecedented rainfall in late October and early November 2009 resulted in severe and prolonged flooding, with 80pc of the country's weather stations noting record levels of rain. The amount that fell was expected once every 500 years.

People were evacuated from their homes, many forced to live in hotels for weeks. Businesses were forced to close in the run-up to Christmas. Cork city was flooded and thousands left without clean water. The insurance bill alone came to almost €250m, not to mention the cost of the emergency services.

In the second half of December the cold arrived, with daytime temperatures remaining below zero for weeks. It lasted into January, with -17C recorded in Carlow.

While national routes remained open, supplies of grit ran out and local and regional roads were closed because they were too dangerous. Pipes burst, and households were left without water. The insurance bill was €300m.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was on holiday. Besides, it wasn't a 'major emergency'.

The National Emergency Plan defines a major emergency as an event which "usually with little or no warning, causes or threatens death or injury, serious disruption of essential services or damage to property, the environment or infrastructure beyond the normal capabilities of the principal emergency services in the area in which the event occurs".

It adds that such an event requires "the activation of specific additional procedures and the mobilisation of additional resources to ensure an effective, co-ordinated response".

The criteria seemed to fit, but a major emergency was not declared. In a damning indictment of the State's efforts, the report says it was "at best unproven and more likely simply untrue" that agencies were able to cope with the crisis.

Scientists tell us that climate change means these extreme weather events will become more common as the planet warms and weather systems go out of kilter.

A review of the Emergency Plan is underway, and should be complete by October -- just in time for winter.

Irish Independent

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