Varadkar: Financial support to be given for homes and firms destroyed by Babet

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) observes the damage to a local charity shop on Main Street in Midleton, Co Cork, after Storm Babet, the second named storm of the season, swept in. Picture date: Thursday October 19, 2023.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) observes the damage to a local charity shop on Main Street in Midleton, Co Cork, after Storm Babet, the second named storm of the season, swept in. Picture date: Thursday October 19, 2023.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government will be offering a financial package to support people whose homes and businesses were damaged in floods during Storm Babet.

Mr Varadkar visited some of those worst hit by the storm in Midleton, Co Cork, during a major clean-up operation to deal with the aftermath of flooding that swamped several towns and villages in Ireland.

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

“Water levels rose very high, the water came very quickly, and of course, a lot of the water is dirty. So a lot of damage done here is to homes as well.

“But we’re not just here as a government to just to express solidarity, we’re here to help.

“So we’re putting in place a financial package to help homes that are affected, businesses that weren’t insured – clearly a lot of damage to roads and bridges as well and they’re going to need to be repaired.”

He added: “There’s an initial allocation of 10 million to help families and businesses that are affected, and clubs and voluntary organisations too, but it’s not capped at 10 million, that’s just the initial allocation that’s made.”

Autumn weather October 19th 2023
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visits local businesses on Main Street in Midleton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Counties Cork and Waterford on the southern coast of the island were worst hit, with some areas still under water on Thursday morning.

It comes as Met Eireann on Thursday morning issued a status yellow rain warning for Cork, Kerry and Limerick, with heavy rain expected overnight into Friday morning, likely to lead to more flooding and dangerous travelling conditions.

Members of the Irish Defence Forces were deployed on Wednesday as part of the response to the floods.

The army and civil defence units supported evacuation measures in the town of Midleton, where more than 100 properties were flooded.

A number of businesses, including a prominent supermarket, were damaged by the rapidly rising water levels.

Mr Varadkar said that the amount available to businesses would have to be raised due to the severity of the damage caused.

“There is an initial grant of five thousand (euro) just to get people going, and then a higher grant of up to 20,000 after that,” he said.

“But I think we’ll have to increase that limit because the level of damage to some of the stock here, particularly with people who brought stock in for Christmas, is very high.”

While the floods have since receded, almost 500 electricity customers in Midleton remained without power on Thursday morning, with network engineers from ESB working to restore supply.

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Flooding in Midleton, Co Cork (Damien Rytel/PA)

Cork County Council said more than a month’s worth of rain fell in the space of 24 hours, leading to unprecedented flooding, saturated land and high river levels across the county.

The council has established a centre at Midleton Fire Station to co-ordinate the response, and a rest facility was provided in Midleton Community Centre for those who had been evacuated.

During his visit to the town, the Taoiseach spoke with a local business owner, Sinead Morrissey, who said “none of us feel like anything has been done” in relation to flood prevention.

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Sinead Morrissey, owner of Bertelli Menswear on Main Street in Midleton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Varadkar said that a flood relief scheme for Midleton was “being progressed”, but that the government “can’t cut corners”.

“The anger and frustration is entirely understandable, and I can identify with it,” he said.

“We’ve done about 50 flood relief schemes, places like Douglas, places like Togher, places like Bandon. They work – there’s another 90 that are in progress.”

He added: “We can’t cut corners on them. There are environmental issues. There are very often objections to the schemes. And very often they end up in court as well.

“This one here in Midleton, preliminary works are done already, the environmental assessment is underway, and we intend to put in a planning application for next year.

“But we can’t control whether or not people object, we can’t control the environmental issues.”

Flooding in Midleton, Co Cork, caused by Storm Babet
Flooding in Midleton, Co Cork, caused by Storm Babet (Damien Rytel/PA)

Earlier, Cabinet minister Simon Coveney – who is from Co Cork – said the flooding has “caused carnage” across the county, while Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said his “heart goes out to all the residents and businesses” affected by Storm Babet.

Independent councillor for East Cork Liam Quaide said the scenes of flooding in Mill Street and Main Street in Midleton were “apocalyptic”.

He told the PA news agency he and other family members got stranded for several hours with many other local residents on the outskirts of town as both roads home were off limits.

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The clean-up gets under way on Main street in Midleton (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We tried a couple of perilous detours and had to turn back,” he said.

“The scenes of devastation in Midleton (are) an ominous sign of what is ahead of us as a nation if we don’t double down on climate mitigation and adaptation.

“I’d like to commend the heroic work of Cork County Council staff, the fire service and Civil Defence Forces who worked around the clock evacuating and providing assistance to many people in distress.”

Local resident Liam MacCarthaigh said he had been temporarily “stranded” during the after-school run in the town due to the floods.

Flooding was also reported in Whitegate, Rathcormac, Glandore, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline, Raffeen, Halfway and Casteltownbere in Co Cork.

In Waterford, there were reports of flooding in Dungarvan, Tallow and Clashmore.

Five counties on the south and south-east coasts of Ireland – Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow – were subject to orange rain warnings on Wednesday.

An additional yellow rain warning has been announced for Co Kerry, lasting 24 hours from 6pm on Thursday.

Some of the flooding episodes began on Tuesday.

Autumn weather October 19th 2023
The clean-up gets under way on Main street in Midleton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Euan Whelton, from the village of Glandore in Co Cork, said he had not seen flooding “this bad” for 10 years.

The 21-year-old agriculture worker said the Skibbereen Fire Brigade pumped water from the area for “five or six hours” on Tuesday but said it remained underwater on Wednesday.

He said the harbour village was “closed down” in 2013 due to heavy flooding and told PA: “I would say in 10 years it hasn’t been this bad.”

He added: “There were a few houses down there that were flooded – there was probably a foot or two of water inside the houses.

“There was a riverbank burst and it flooded the houses down there. There was a high tide as well so it was hard to get the water out.

“The fire brigade was there for probably five or six hours pumping it out but it’s still all underwater at the moment (Wednesday afternoon).”

Autumn weather October 19th 2023
A shop owner mops the window of a shop front on Main Street in Midleton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Whelton added that, in one of his cousin’s houses, the water was “coming in the back door and going straight out the front door”.

Co Cork Mayor Frank O’Flynn said a month’s worth of rain had fallen in 24 hours.

“This is on top of already saturated lands and high river levels,” he said.

“It is evidence, if any were needed, of our changing climate and the issues that it presents.

“I am especially conscious of the advanced preparations that were undertaken by Cork County Council in mitigating the effects of this event and how, despite every effort, homes, businesses and road users have been impacted.

“Areas where flood defence schemes have been completed fared far better than others in the face of this deluge.”

He said the issues facing authorities dealing with the flooding are “unprecedented”.

Northern Ireland avoided the worst of the weather on Wednesday.

A Met Office yellow rain warning covered Northern Ireland from Wednesday afternoon until 10am on Thursday.