November 2009 started with something to prove. From the first day of the month, Corkonians were treated to chill, rain, or wind. The night of November 19th made that seem like a walk in the park, however. After torrential downpours and strong winds surrounded us for nearly two days, the city and its environs were left with severe flooding the likes of which have not been seen for decades. Keeping in mind Cork City once had waterways where a few of the main streets now stand, it will take a familiar tone when looking at photos of it today.
Friday, the 20th of November was a morning like any other, but it was not like any other it was just hours after high tide and released dam water cascaded ruthlessly into the streets and ground floors of homes and business. Some awoke to the sound of splashing within their houses while others arrived at work to discover newly-delivered inventory or major appliances ruined. There was no separation between the river and the streets let alone the buildings. Open a door and discover the same unrelenting deep water.
A few hours after high tide, I pulled on my Wellies and waded through the streets to capture some of the scenes of the flooding. From a distance or only seeing it through media coverage, it was exciting to have something happen in Cork. The city was on the news, the Lee Fields were so flooded they could only dream of looking like a rice paddy. The sculpture for the first time more resembled the Loch Ness Monster than a piece of art. Photo below by Thomas Cowderoy.
Up-close, however, the flood waters tormented those whose lives were not merely touched by it, but punched in the gut. These were homes, businesses, livelihoods, and even lives.
On Patrick’s Street it was business as usual, but turning onto Grand Parade, you could see the destruction. By mid-morning the water level had lowered so the sidewalks were wet but no longer impassable. The centre of Grand Parade, however, was almost at knee-level. Wellies were the required footwear.
On Shears Street the water reached the top of my boots then higher with each step closer to the River Lee. Each time I poured the water from my rain boots, I half expected a fish to come swimming out. At one point we were standing in bone-chilling water up to our thighs and had we taken a few more steps it would have covered us to the waistline.
Those with waders, inflatable boats, and high-wheel vehicles (including tractors) did their best to reach out to neighbours and the community at-large. The fire brigade helped staff reach Mercy Hospital, where patients were still in need of treatment. No matter what crisis was happening outside, some were still fighting for their lives on the medical front.
The closer to the banks of the unforgiving Lee, the deeper the water became. The wall beside Mercy Hospital couldn’t hold up to the beating and River and the streets became one.
Raging waters and fallen trees challenged the bridges. As shown in the photos below, the water on one side of the wall is the River Lee, it’s supposed to be there, but the water on side of the wall where the people are standing is not supposed to be there since that’s usually a two-lane two-direction road along the quay. The red bridge is a pedestrian bridge which has a fallen tree snagged under it at the time this photo was taken. Where the men are standing in the background on the left side of the wall is where the wall fell into the river and a lightpost and live wire came down.
At the end of the day, we were drenched. A few hundred photos having been taken and a water conservation/stoppage warning in place changed the comfort level we were used to in the city. Though all these effects, we felt fortunate to have dry homes and dry cars to return to.
Almost two weeks later, I awoke with a swollen throat and face. I walked into my GP’s office and was greeted by, “So, have you ever had Mumps?” Turns out that Mumps can be waterborne in contaminated water. At the time, I found a medical article online that suggested certain foods to avoid while sick with Mumps. I followed the rather strict diet and ingested low-sodium chicken broth with chopped cooked potatoes and sweet corn for one week and when the Mumps finally ran its course, I felt (and looked) normal rather immediately.
Unlike me and my being sick with Mumps, the other effects and damage from the flood lasted far longer. Some buildings, businesses, and homes still await repairs and reimbursement for damage.