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'We pay our taxes, where does it go?': Anger in Midleton as businesses count cost of flooding

The town was hit with unprecedented flooding as the local river burst its banks yesterday during Storm Babet.

firat-freddie-uygun-inside-his-barber-shop-fresh-n-freddie-on-main-street-in-midleton-co-cork-damaged-by-flooding-after-storm-babet-the-second-named-storm-of-the-season-swept-in-picture-date-t Firat Freddie Uygun inside his barber shop Fresh 'N' Freddie on Main St. PA Images PA Images

THE STRENGTH OF yesterday’s deluge in Midleton smashed windows in shops and flooded the roads in some places to five feet deep. 

The Journal visited the town this morning where we saw a scene of devastation with mud from receded flood waters being brushed from shop fronts and collections of drenched goods in mounds outside shops. 

Council workers installed drains and firefighters began the process of moving cars that drifted into the streets during the extreme weather event. 

Some 100 homes have been flooded and their residents evacuated. The local hospital had been evacuated while the garda station was also hit during the flood.

The Owenacurra River was within its banks today but yesterday, and last night, it burst and flooded the low lying Midleton town centre.

This is the not the first time Midleton has suffered such a deluge – eight years ago a similar flood hit the area but businesses said it was much worse this time.

Storms that can cause major impacts like flooding are expected to become more frequent and more intense as climate change disrupts weather patterns. 

The Climate Action Plan 2023 states that the “most immediate risks to Ireland from climate change are predominantly those associated with changes in extremes, such as floods, droughts, and storms”.

Extreme rainfall and flooding can cause “disruption of transport services, unsafe driving conditions and gradual deterioration of infrastructure”, it says.

In Midleton, shopkeepers the length of the street were counting the cost and expressed their anger that it happened again.

Lisa O’Connell, was standing in front of her shop HS2 in Midleton, the large shop window smashed by the power of the surge:

We were in work and were very busy, full of clients and staff, and in a blink of an eye the water just started coming up. 

“Outside was knee deep in five minutes, we had to escort the clients out the back which also was flooding. We stayed as long as we could to save the place, get the door blocked up, but it wasn’t stopping and we were up to our waists to try and get out,” she said.

Lisa emerged to find her car submerged and was forced to walk home through the flood waters. 

“At least I have a home, there are people here who have no homes left. It is just devastating,” she added. 

When asked about the lack of flood defences in Midleton O’Connell said she was angry.

“I am extremely upset. This happened eight years ago again and it is worse now. We have lost so much now, the whole town, I can’t get over it.

“There were people driving up the main street last night in SUVs, I saw them, pushing waves into the businesses – the waves were as big as something you’d see at a beach.

“We were panicking and we were in the salon and the water was coming up like we were in the middle of the ocean,” she added. 

IMG_6221 Paul O'Neill and colleagues cleaning up O'Farrell's Butchers on Main Street, Midleton. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Another shopkeeper is Paul O’Neill of O’Farrell’s Butchers – his freezers and stock was stacked on the street.  

“We were flooded up to our knees through the whole shop – the water came up the drains at the back.

“Came in the front door as well but we’ve lost thousands of euro in stock, our fridges worth €20,000 are gone. There was no warning, no sandbanks – the only person that came to warn us was a guard who told us at lunchtime to go home. 

“I didn’t see anyone from the council, they said they had four days of preparation done – we didn’t see it,” he said.

O’Neill said the only warning was an email warning them that a flood was to happen but he said the flooding was already inside the shop.

“If we don’t get support here we won’t be here long – we can’t carry the losses. The Taoiseach will come in here just to be seen to be walking around,” he said. 

IMG_6222 (1) Damian O'Brien in his devastated shop.

Damian O’Brien, Fox and Co menswear has been open just over a year in Midleton and he has a second woman’s store Flamingo close by – both businesses have been flooded. 

“It is just devastating, what happened here. We just couldn’t get ahead of things here – it is nature but sandbags weren’t there when we needed them.

 ”A lot of businesses will be closed for a few weeks and we have staff to look after too.  We are grateful for the people helping here today – it is a bad one,” he said. 

O’Brien said that other towns such as Clonmel and Fermoy have had successful flood prevention projects but he felt that Midleton had not been seen as a priority. 

It is a big issue, and a growing issue in the world we live in now. We are conscious we are being chased for rates but we don’t see where that money is being spent.

“We pay our taxes, we pay VAT but where does it go – where is the joined up thinking on this. I will wait to see what the report says on this but we expected it to flood from the front but it came from the back and that hasn’t happened in the past,” he added.

Assistance

In a statement this afternoon, Cork County Council said there was multi-agency response to yesterday’s flooding and that support centres are in place. 

“The Council has responded to 57 calls for assistance between 5 pm yesterday and 9 am this morning through our customer support centre. Cork County Council is offering free disposal of flood-damaged goods at all our Civic Amenity Sites until 26 Thursday  October,” it said. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived shortly after lunch in the town and met with officials at the local Fire Brigade Station which was an emergency co-ordination centre during the storm. He then toured the town.

“It is very hard to know what to say. I’ve visited a few places affected by flooding in the past but this is particularly bad,” he told locals.

“Water levels came very high, the water came very quickly, a lot of it was dirty, so understandably a lot of people are very upset, and very angry.”

- Contains reporting by Lauren Boland.

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