Inquest into flat drowning during flood told of frantic rescue attempts

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

FAILED ATTEMPTS to rescue a woman trapped in a basement flat during last year’s Dublin floods were described at Dublin Coroner’s Court yesterday.

At the inquest into the death of Filipina hospice worker and mother of one Celia de Jesus, who drowned in her flat on Parnell Road, Dublin, the inquest heard that her neighbours tried frantically to save her as she screamed for help.

The incident occurred during extremely heavy rains on October 24th last year when floods engulfed houses on Parnell Road as water from the river Poddle surged downhill toward the Grand Canal.

Ms de Jesus’s upstairs neighbour, Larija Vingre, said that while investigating a noise downstairs she saw water pouring in and heard Ms de Jesus calling for help. She went outside where she saw Ms de Jesus trying to open her door.

“The water was as high as the window part of the door. It looked like she dropped the key but she couldn’t find it. I saw the girl and she saw me. She shouted, screamed for help even louder.”

Ms Vingre said she ran upstairs and looked for the help of five men living on the top floor flat. Ishfaq Ahmed waded into waist-high water outside the basement door and attempted to kick it in. At this stage water was pouring out of vents located higher than the door and bedroom window of the flat.

In his deposition to the court Mr Ahmed said he broke the window and water poured out. He could still hear Ms de Jesus’s screams but could not enter the flat because there were bars on the window.

Dublin Fire Brigade attended the scene but could not access the flat. Holes were cut in the floor of the flat above to allow divers gain access but water was two inches to three inches from the ceiling. Furniture was floating around the space making it very dangerous.

Ms de Jesus’s body was not retrieved until the following morning when firefighters were able to pump water out of the flat. She was discovered in the bedroom. An autopsy found she had drowned.

A solicitor representing the family, Elizabeth Ferris, told the court the dead woman’s husband and 19-year-old son were not able to attend the inquest because immigration officials had refused permission for them to remain in Ireland beyond their initial visa.

Ms de Jesus had been living in the basement apartment at Parnell Road for two months, landlord Andrew Donaghoe told the court, and at one point requested an extra lock on the door. He had advised against this because he was concerned she could become trapped.

Mr Donaghoe said that although there were bars on the windows, they were not fixed in place and could be removed if necessary. On the morning following the incident he found the key to the front door hanging on the inside door frame.

Senior executive fire prevention officer with Dublin Fire Brigade James Briscoe said the only means of exit from the flat had been through the basement door.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell returned a verdict of death by misadventure. He is to write to Dublin City Council and the Fire Safety Authority to recommend a review of safety guidelines for entrances and exits from basement flats.