No respite as another storm moves in from Atlantic
STORM-battered counties are bracing themselves for a St Valentine's Day gale as a sixth Atlantic storm strikes Ireland in the space of just six weeks.
Motorists and householders were urged to exercise extreme caution, although Met Eireann predicted the latest gale will not match the violent winds of Storm Darwin earlier this week.
Wind speeds of up to 170kph caused widespread devastation on Wednesday with trees felled, roads blocked and roofs torn from buildings.
There are still up to 115,000 homes without electricity as the ESB said it was dealing with its biggest network repair challenge.
ESB Networks director Jerry O'Sullivan warned some customers may be without power for another two days as the firm faced "a mammoth task" in dealing with over 7,000 line faults.
The massive scale of power outages left an estimated 100,000 homes across Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Clare without normal water supplies.
Met Eireann's Evelyn Cusack said that Ireland doesn't face any relief from the Atlantic storms, with strong winds and torrential rainfall expected for another 48 hours.
"It won't be a full-blown storm. There may well be some lightning strikes, perhaps affecting power lines. They won't be widespread – but we do have some snow and we do have some thunder storm activity.
"It will be followed by frost and icy patches ... and some heavy rain showers. But there is a chance of some fine weather next week," she said.
Cork faces the threat of its third bout of flooding in 11 days with a tidal alert issued for 5pm-6pm today.
Cork City Council predicted flooding in both the city centre and south quays.
Clare County Council also issued a storm warning.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said the Government was considering an emergency increase in the €70m storm aid package already outlined.
He said Darwin ranks as one of the worst five storms in Irish history, while Office of Public Works Minister Brian Hayes acknowledged "it was a miracle" lives were not lost.
"We have been so lucky. This has gone on for eight full weeks with Code Red weather alerts, Category One storms and less severe storms and flooding. Quite frankly, it is a miracle that we have not seen fatalities in the last days," he said.
Mr Hayes also insisted that Met Eireann's new colour-coded alert system worked well, although the Government will learn lessons from the devastating events of the past six weeks.
The sheer scale of the damage prompted experts to warn that some repairs could take weeks to complete.
Almost 2,500 electricity repair staff, some drafted in from Northern Ireland, are working round the clock to restore power supplies.
At its peak, more than 260,000 homes were without power and many families also lost water supplies.
West Cork and Kerry are the worst hit areas, with the inaccessible nature of some terrain requiring helicopters for grid damage assessment.
The violence of the storm was borne out by the fact the largest wave ever seen in Irish coastal waters – a mammoth 25 metres – was recorded by the Kinsale Gas platform.
An estimated 50 schools in Cork, Kerry, Clare and Limerick either remained closed or sent children home early because of damage to roofs or the lack of water and electricity supplies. Major repairs will now be undertaken in damaged schools during the mid-term break next week.
Meanwhile, Clare County Council implemented an emergency water tanker system from Sixmilebridge and Cratloe to Killaloe.
The council stressed that all water supplies from tankers should be boiled before use and said it was working with both the ESB and Health Service Executive (HSE) to get normal supplies restored.
An estimated 100,000 people have been left without safe drinking water in the wake of the ferocious storm.
Clare County Council sent water tankers to a number of locations due to ongoing problems with water supply.
And Limerick County Council issued a boil water notice due to power outages affecting water pumping stations and treatment plants.
It was "not in a position to guarantee that water supplies throughout the County are treated to the standards required by the Drinking Water Regulations."
The local authority said it was acting on the advice of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Irish Water and as a precautionary measure pending further investigation.
Water supplies in Limerick City and suburbs are not affected by the notice, the council said.
Gardai and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) pleaded with motorists to drive with caution given the quantity of water on Irish roads and the prospect of overnight ice and snow.
"Scattered snow showers overnight may lead to hazardous road conditions throughout the country. The RSA are advising all road users to be aware of black ice on the roads and slippery road conditions," the RSA said.
Ralph Riegel, Jerome Reilly and Paul Melia