A view of the devastation after the landslide in 2003.
Landslide area restored
IT’S ALMOST 40 months since the skies opened over Dooncarton Mountain and changed the lives of the people of Pullathomas and the surrounding area forever, but the images of that chaotic night in north Mayo remain etched in the minds of many.
Last week, a presentation by Mayo County Council Director of Services, Mr Peter Hynes, at the Civil Defence Educational and Training National Conference in Breaffy House Resort, documented the extraordinary happenings of September 19, 2003 and revealed the extensive restoration programme which is finally expected to be completed by the end of the year, at a cost of approximately €4 million.
The final piece in the jigsaw has been the installation of kinetic barriers on the mountainside which will act as a shield if there is ever a repeat of the events of that fateful night.
It’s been a long road for Mayo County Council, who took it upon themselves to head up the restoration of the area after 200,000 cubic metres of debris had tumbled down the hillside.
“The reality is there was nothing in our mandate to compel us to take ownership of the situation, but we did and we worked in partnership with everyone. It was not a case of who was in charge, but more who will take responsibility for the leadership,” stated Mr Hynes.
Three-and-a-quarter years on and Mr Hynes proclaims that the Council are proud of the way the situation was handled.
“We have received both media and governmental approval for our role in the aftermath of the landslide and I feel we did exactly what we set out to do - we did exactly what it said on the tin,” stated Mr Hynes.
It was a monumental challenge for the local authority, a quick recount of the statistics revealing the harsh reality of the situation that faced them. A total of 50 families were directly affected as 80mm of rain fell directly on Dooncarton Mountain over a 90-minute period. Meteorological reports confirmed that a storm had centred on the area for that period and as a result 200,000 cubic metres of debris moved from the hillside, mixed among one million cubic metres of water. The result was the destruction of roads, bridges, culverts, the pier and most emotively of all, the graveyard.
However, despite reports to the contrary, a large number of remains were not washed away, Mr Hynes confirmed last week. Just three remains have gone unaccounted for in the graveyard, which is now fully restored.
While the physical restoration work was always likely to be achieved, with the allocation of sufficient money and the time, the psychological effects were much tougher for the Council to deal with.
“There was no doubt that this was one of the biggest challenges for us. The people of the area felt, ‘why us?’, and there was a resonance of worry and concern from September 20 onwards. There was a fear that people would not return,” said Mr Hynes.
The Council realised from day one that communication was going to be of vital importance, first of all with the people of the area, and secondly with the media.
Daily meetings were held in Aughoose Church before details were released to the media, who were camped in the area for many weeks, leading Mr Hynes to state that the ‘CNN Factor’ had come to north Mayo. Mid West Radio had also broadcast live from 11pm to 2am on the night of the incident to give updates.
Mr Hynes said that speculation in the media after the event had sought to blame the landslide on many different things - a lighting strike on a nearby radar tower, vibrations from work on the nearby gas project - but all proved to be unfounded. The combination of a dry spell followed by torrential rain had been enough to move the mountain. Simple as that.
The title of the conference which Mr Hynes was addressing last week was ‘Emergency Preparedness’ and once the first call was made to local councillor, Gerry Coyle on the night of the Dooncarton landslide, the Council’s Belmullet crew were on the site within 30 minutes, before the rain had even stopped. They were quickly followed by the Fire Services, the Civil Defence, the ESB, the Coastguard, the HSE and the media.
By October 3, two thirds of the area had been made low- or medium-risk and 14 families remained in the high-risk area. These high-risk areas are where the kinetic fencing has been erected, at a cost of €900,000. Because of their expertise, an Austrian company have worked in conjunction with the a local contractor in erecting this specialised fencing which should be finished before Christmas, Mr Hynes stated. This fencing is not intrusive and it provides a security and comfort for the people of the area as they prepare to put the nightmare of September 19, 2003 behind them.
The new kinetic barriers on the mountainside at Dooncarton, which will act as a shield in the event of a future landslide.