ESB warns battle to restore power after storm will be 'frustratingly slow'
Met Eireann says the worst of the weather is over but unsettled conditions to continue for the next few days
ESB crews have been working since first light this morning to try to restore power to more than 5,000 homes left without electricity after yesterday's powerful storm.
Ireland's worst winter weather for 15 years wreaked havoc for travellers and homeowners alike and left more than 70,000 homes without power.
Miraculously, nobody was seriously injured, despite dozens of large trees falling victim to the 150kph winds, which ripped the roofs off schools in Kerry and Dublin and damaged a hospital entrance canopy.
Met Eireann warned that while the worst winds were now over, unsettled conditions would continue for the next few days. The storm warning was been downgraded to a Code Yellow late last night which is the least severe weather warning, for the entire country.
The ESB confirmed that it had every available repair crew operating nationwide as it battled to cope with almost 1,000 individual line faults across more than a dozen counties.
ESB Networks managed to restore power to more than 65,000 homes yesterday, but 5,000 homes in Cork, Kerry, Clare and Limerick will have to wait until at least later today for reconnection.
“ESB Networks crews worked from early morning yesterday to late into the night and restored electricity supply to 65,000 customers,” a spokesperson for the ESB said today. “These crews mobilised again early this morning to begin the task of repairing over 970 faults, in order to restore power to the remaining 5,000 customers.”
“Crews have travelled from areas less affected to assist in the South and South West where the majority of the faults occurred. Bandon, Killarney, Galway, Ennis, Newcastlewest and Tralee remain the key areas affected in the South and South West.”
“In situations where storms have caused extensive damage to the electricity networks across the country, fixing the smaller more localised faults can be frustratingly slow for both customers and network technicians,” the ESB spokesperson added. “Today will be a difficult and long day, with an average of eight customers per fault. Progress will be frustratingly slow for the effort expended.”
Many of the faults have been caused by falling trees and branches, which ESB crews need to cut and remove before the power supply repair work can begin. Additional faults overnight in areas such as Glasnevin and Ballymun have also hampered the repair effort by increasing the ESB’s workload.
There was similar damage to the phone network, with Eircom having 700 crews working around the clock to deal with 7,500 line faults caused by wind, rain and lightning strikes.
Winds gusted to more than 150kph between 11pm on Thursday and 3am yesterday and all repair crews had to be stood down for a time for safety reasons.
Meteorologist Vincent O'Shea said the country hadn't experienced winds of such power in a winter storm for more than 15 years.
The worst damage to the power grid was suffered in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Wexford, Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Kildare and Westmeath.
In Glanmire, Co Cork, the O'Riain family had a miraculous escape when a giant beech tree toppled across a busy road and hit their home.
The tree, which was growing by the main entrance to St Stephen's Hospital, directly across the road from the O'Riain home, fell shortly before 2am yesterday when the storm was at its height.
Elaine O'Riain, her partner and nine-year-old son were shaken but uninjured.
Her brother Tomas, who lives next door, said: "I heard a loud bang and the sound of a crash.
"I knew that something was wrong. I looked out the Velux window of my home and I saw my sister's house covered by the giant tree.
"It was a very lucky escape. They were asleep in the bedrooms at the other end of the house. The tree even missed the three cars that were parked around the house."
Because Ms O'Riain's house has a flat roof, it managed to deflect most of the blow from the collapsing beech tree.
In Wilton in Cork city, powerful gusts ripped cladding from a roof canopy near Cork University Hospital's cardiac and renal unit, forcing the temporary closure of the main entrance to the hospital.
There was a similar near-miss in Co Kerry, where a tree fell near the home of Senator Paul Coughlan outside Killarney.
It missed the Fine Gael politician's home but smashed on to the Old Port Road, demolishing a street light and damaging part of a historic stone road bridge. The road remained closed throughout the day.
AA Ireland's Conor Faughnan said it would be a few weeks before the true cost of the storm damage could be assessed.
"We've had storms of that sort of severity in the past and it would not be surprising if in the end it worked out to be somewhere between €100m and €150m," he added.
Meanwhile, Irish Ferries cancelled all Swift services due to the weather, while three Dublin-Holyhead ferry services were either cancelled or delayed.
Flights were also cancelled at airports due to the severity of the gusts and dangerous crosswinds. Hundreds of passengers experienced flight delays at Dublin airport after flights were suspended for about 90 minutes shortly after 7.40am because of strong crosswinds that affected both runways. Flights resumed again by mid-morning.
In other areas, the torrential rainfall left businesses and homeowners battling floods.
There was serious flooding and structural damage in Cavan and Monaghan, with roofing ripped from farm sheds in the Broomfield area of south Monaghan and extensive flooding in the Ballybay and Toome areas of the county and the Cootehill area of Co Cavan. A number of farms near the River Fane -- which flows from Co Monaghan through south Armagh -- were also badly flooded.
Irish Rail confirmed that Pearse Street station in Dublin, which had been closed, has reopened this morning.
Ralph Riegel, Allison Bray and Joanna Kiernan