Communities rally following Storm Debi destruction

A group clear the Poppy Seed Café, Clarinbridge.

A group clear the Poppy Seed Café, Clarinbridge.

As communities in the coastal towns of Kinvara and Clarinbridge rally to support one another following the devastating blow to buildings and infrastructure, the question facing affected residents and business owners is ‘how will we rebuild’?

It has been three days since Storm Debi swept through Galway, battering coastal towns with gusts of up to 115 km/h, resulting in entire towns being flooded, destroying homes and businesses. Preceded by a Red Weather warning issued on Sunday, November 12, amidst concerns about the ‘potential danger to life’ by the velocity of the approaching storm, schools were asked to delay openings until 10am and for many, life returned to normal.

For the people of Clarinbridge, returning to normal is a challenge that seems out of reach at the moment.

“Reality is just setting in, regarding the level of devastation that has been caused to most of Clarinbridge’s business community,” said Galway County Councillor and local resident, Martina Kinane. “Everyone is trying to be very positive, which I think you have to be at a time like this.”

With eight businesses in Clarinbridge affected, Cllr Kinane says the destruction caused by the storm has ‘shaken the heart of the village’, with the local post office being one of the few businesses remaining open and functional.

Heartbreaking devastation

For many business owners in Clarinbridge, Monday morning was filled with heartbreak as they witnessed the full extent of the damage. Amongst the worst hit were the occupants of a retail complex located south of the river that cuts through the village, with the local supermarket, hairdresser, garden centre, and café requiring a substantial amount of refurbishment.

One of these businesses, the Londis supermarket in the village, was very nearly the scene of tragedy as an employee became trapped in the store as it began to flood. Owner Ronan Hennigan, spoke to RTÉ One on Monday afternoon about the situation, saying that an employee called him when water started entering the building at approximately 4:35am.

“He was trapped in the shop. He spoke to me at 4.35am and by 4.45am the water had risen ten, 12 feet. It was seawater, so it was a storm surge. At that stage the wind was hurricane level, it was that bad.”

The employee was later rescued by emergency services when the water levels decreased, he was then taken to hospital to be checked out but is now ‘fine’.

In the interview, Hennigan described the scope of the damage to the shop as ‘unthinkable’, further exacerbated by issues with insurance.

“We’ve no insurance now. We need the Government’s help on this because otherwise my 20 staff will be out of a job and we won’t be able to open again. I would estimate the cost of the damage, I couldn’t put a figure on it but minimum half a million, €700,000, that’s how bad, it’s devastation.

“It just cleaned everything out, it moved coolers around the shop, contaminated all the food so that all has to be dumped. It’s horrendous, horrendous.

“It’s an absolute nightmare, a nightmare, the worst way you could have woken up.”

Government intervention

With many businesses in the village without insurance, it is yet unknown how rebuilding beloved local institutions in Clarinbridge will be possible given the sheer scale of the destruction.

It was announced by The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD on Tuesday, November 14 that the Government’s Emergency Business Flooding Schemes would be extended to cover small businesses, sports clubs, community and voluntary organisations in Galway affected by Storm Debi earlier this week. The scheme was designed to assist businesses unable to secure flood insurance.

However, Cllr Kinane says that this fund will be a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the amount that is needed to rebuild businesses that are ‘the beating hearts of Clarinbridge’.

“People have families and depending on them and you know, a week is a long time without answers. We need just more than talk now.”

“We have a short, short window to keep up the confidence for these businesses, and we hope that the Government, and it is going to be Government support we need, will step up, and the County Council as well.

“I am calling on immediate intervention to be put in place to protect the village to protect all the shops going forward. What people are saying to me as of last night, is that they cannot mentally go through this again. They need to know that there’s some kind of storm protection put around the village while a long-term resolution can be found.”

‘I have never seen anything like it in my life’

For Mike Burke, owner of the Pier Head Bar and Restaurant in Kinvara, the challenge ahead to get the beloved local business back up and running is exacerbated by the lack of electricity, but he and a team of friends and neighbours are working hard to try and open the pub this Friday evening for the launch of community development group, Cairde Cinn Mhara.

“We are trying to get open as soon as we can, but without electricity we don’t know if fridges or ovens are working or not. We would be very, very lucky to open ahead of the launch of Cairde Cinn Mhara, but if we make it, we make it.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life time. In the 23 years we have been open, Pier Head has never been flooded, but when I could get in on Monday morning, the furniture was floating around the room.

“It was the worst night that I have ever seen.”

Much like Clarinbridge, Kinvara has seen its vital, beating heart businesses and institutions badly affected by the storm, with the local national school dealing with extensive roof damage.

The scenes that awaited Mike when he tried to get down to the pub at 5am on Monday morning were astonishing. Cars parked in the nearby quay were floating in the rising sea water, the floods exacerbated by a storm surge rose to roughly seven ft, dragging a nearby boat docked in the pier onto the road just in front of Pier Head. Nearby, a County Council employee was checking on residents in neighbouring houses as the water began to enter their homes.

“When Pier Head was built, the sea level was taken into account, so this is something we never thought we would have to deal with.”

Like many business owners in the local area, the Pier Head cannot get insurance, and with damage extending to the heating system, furniture, radiators, electrical outlets, flooring, food stock and equipment, Mike has to decide on if he can afford to fully commit to all the repairs.

“With the radiators on the ground destroyed with saltwater, I would say all the heating system is destroyed, so we have to weight up now if opening and getting back in business quickly and doing a half job is the right thing to do. Government help is definitely needed, Kinvara took a direct hit from the storm, I have never seen anything like it. The floods went further inland, than they ever have before.

“Some are comparing it to Storm Debbie from the 1960s, but the people who remember it say that this storm was worse.”

Nevertheless, community spirit is strong in Kinvara, with Mike sharing his gratitude to friends and well wishers near and far.

Storm Debi may have dented spirits, but she did not destroy them.

“Even still, Kinvara is a lovely place to live,” said Mike with a laugh.


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