The water swept through the kitchen, rising to flood the lower, built-in cupboards, before moving into the sittingroom, where tidal marks were left on a couch and an armchair. A wooden floor was soaked and begging to rise.
It was clear much of Elizabeth O’Connor’s family home on Old Charleton Hill in New Ross would have to be gutted before it could be restored.
The terraced house was among those worst hit by flash floods in the Co Wexford town late on Monday afternoon, when at least 40ml of rain fell in about 90 minutes.
Her sisters Regina and Helen had a lucky escape as the water crashed through the back door. A range of kitchen appliances were lost to the flood.
In all, some 70 properties, including about 30 family homes, were severely damaged by the downpour. Homeowners and businesses were left counting the cost.
“New Ross is surrounded by hills, the hailstones were half the size of golf balls and the water just ran down through houses towards the river,” said Emma Fogarty, who watched water cascade down Michael Street and Robert Street, across South Street and towards the quays. “People in Sugar House Lane were so surprised by it. It happened so suddenly everybody ran for shelter. Those who made it into shops were videoing it for social media,” she said.
Some of the footage shows a mudslide from a newly landscaped park slipping down from High Hill across John Street and on to Bridge Street as large hailstones battered cars and a park stairway became a waterfall.
As the torrent swept along South Street, water poured through a grid covering the basement of Brian Bailey’s picture-framing business, thundering downwards with such force it smashed the reinforced glass basement windows, pouring in and sweeping machinery, glass, frames and framing materials across the lower ground floor to the back of the building. Mr Bailey, who was on the ground floor at the time, was grateful not to be injured. Wooden floorboards were soaked, cardboard boxes collapsed. “My family has owned this building for 100 years, there has never been anything like this before,” he said.
On the other side of the street, McCauley Pharmacy technician Maryrose Ronan was in the prescription area at the back of the shop when she heard the noise of the water on the roof. “This area of the building has a flat roof so the water built up and then the ceiling tiles came in,” she said. Two of the pharmacy’s three computer systems stopped working as did a facility to place prescription tablets into bubble-wrap packets, with a loss of a large amount of medication. Speaking as she worked around a dehumidifier on Tuesday, she said the full scale of the damage was yet to be properly assessed.
“Towns are not designed for this,” said Wexford County Council director of services Eamonn Hore. He happened to be sitting in his short sleeves having a coffee outside the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience on the quays at lunchtime on Monday, just three hours before the torrential rain hit. He estimated at least 40ml of rainfall had fallen in about 90 minutes in New Ross, while “probably just 7ml” fell in the Dunganstown area just outside the town and possibly less again in Enniscorthy and Wexford town.
New Ross was the subject of a €4.5 million flood-defence scheme completed in 2016 and on three occasions since then it has been saved from flooding from the river Barrow, said Mr Hore. But this time, he said, the flood did not come from the river, but towards it. He said commentary on social media that flood defences had prevented the downpour from accessing the river was not true. He said much of the flooding happened in premises tens of metres above the quays, as the water raced downhill.
“We were lucky that there were five fire brigade engines and pumps on the scene almost immediately. Water was pumped into the river because the river wasn’t in flood and the council staff, the fire brigade, the Civil Defence and the gardaí did a very good job.”
Mr Hore said the downpour was a “one-in-100 or 150-years-type” event and that urban areas in Ireland were just not designed with large-scale pipes able to cope with the localised onslaught of water as happened in the town on Monday.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien visited the town on Tuesday, touring damaged properties and speaking to local residents. He pledged Government support through Department of Enterprise and Department of Social Protection schemes and urged anyone whose insurance policy would not cover the damage to avail of such schemes or contact him directly. The Minister paid tribute to the council and emergency staff who he said responded “efficiently and quickly in a co-ordinated fashion”.
Asked if it was possible to design an engineering solution for such an event, he said: “It is very difficult to do so. I have got to be honest with people. We do have freak weather events, some of them are becoming more prevalent, no question.”
But, he added, “any measures that can be taken will certainly be looked at”.