Saturday 19 August 2017

Sodium saviour will not arrive until the big thaw

Paul Melia and Michael Brennan

THE National Roads Authority (NRA) has ordered 22,000 tonnes of rock salt to treat roads -- but it will not be delivered before stocks run out completely.

The supply will not land in Ireland for another two weeks, at which stage the weather crisis may be over.

Local authorities are on a "knife-edge" in relation to supplies -- which are predicted to run out by tomorrow -- and alternative sources of de-icing material are desperately being sought.

Yesterday it emerged that cooking salt and fertiliser could be used to keep the country's main roads open as temperatures continue to fall.

The NRA said that some roads might not be treated over the weekend in an attempt to conserve dwindling supplies for Monday.

Spokesman Michael Egan said 6,000 to 7,000 tonnes of rock salt would be available next week -- far less than the 20,000 tonnes needed.

But commercial salt could be used as an alternative.

"The salt that you would typically use in cooking or food preparation or in your own (salt) cellar at home, it's essentially the same substance as the rock salt," he said.

"It's a more expensive way but at this stage the cost is not the consideration here, it's the objective to keep the national routes open," he added.

Local authorities may preserve their rock salt supplies over the weekend to ensure they have enough to keep the roads open from Monday.

But this could prove counterproductive as three times more salt is needed to treat roads on which snow has fallen and frozen over, than before the snow comes.

"The reality is that in a limited salt supply situation, we do not have the luxury of pre-treating (roads) to the extent that is desirable in all parts of the national road network," Mr Egan admitted.

There was further chaos on the country's roads yesterday with Bus Eireann services cancelled in counties Louth, Waterford and Cork, and disruptions across the network.

Restricted

Dublin Bus operated a restricted service, but Iarnrod Eireann had all of its routes working.

The freeze is costing Monaghan County Council €10,000 a day, while Eircom will work over the weekend to fix 5,000 faults.

Met Eireann forecaster Gerard Fleming said the temperature of the ground was colder than it had been for 40 years.

This could pose problems as when the thaw comes and rain starts falling, it will freeze.

The NRA revealed it had contacted Irish embassies in Holland, Sweden, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Austria seeking help in sourcing supplies of rock salt.

It confirmed that 15,000 tonnes had been ordered, and expected that a second shipment of 7,000 tonnes would be confirmed today.

The National Emergency Response Committee, convened on Thursday under Environment Minister John Gormley to handle the crisis, has also asked the NRA to source commercial salt and urea, a type of fertiliser, to help keep the main roads open.

Commercial salt costs up to €200 for a tonne, compared with €70 for a tonne of rock salt.

Mr Gormley said decisions by local authorities to grit roads with rock salt would be made "case by case".

There would also be a major nationwide campaign to clear footpaths of ice as Accident and Emergency departments are reporting a 10-fold increase in the numbers of patients turning up.

Irish Independent

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