Friday 18 April 2014

Trail of destruction sweeps country

Ferocity of worst storm in 25 year takes many counties by surprise as 260,000 homes left without power

Part of a wall collapses on a parked car in Limerick. (Photo: Twitter/Cillian Flynn)

A vicious storm wreaked havoc when it ripped through much of the country with unexpected ferocity and little warning.

Hurricane-strength gales tore roofs from buildings;  forced schools and workplaces into lockdown; toppled hundreds of trees and cut electricity to more than 260,000 homes.

While a storm had been forecast for southern counties yesterday, the extent of the  gales took other regions by  surprise.

‘Darwin’, as the storm had been named, made landfall in Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork soon after 6am but then spiralled north towards Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford, carving a trail of destruction.

Officials in Cork and Kerry described the storm and its aftermath as “the worst in 25 years”.

The midlands and western counties were also hit by  strong winds, with the storm blowing across the greater Dublin region during the  afternoon rush-hour.

Gusts of up to 160kph were recorded as the gales raged through much of the day.

Local authorities scrambled to react, and a major emergency was declared in Kilkenny  after more than two dozen weather-related incidents.

Across the country, violent winds brought down power lines; ripped apart homes; and forced the temporary  closure of Shannon and Cork airports.

The storm overturned trucks and closed the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway; left the rail network paralysed; and resulted in more than a dozen cars being crushed by fallen trees.

Today, homeowners and business owners are picking up the pieces, with structural damage on a scale not seen since the Christmas storm of 1998.

Met Eireann is now tracking another storm front which could hit Ireland from tomorrow, bringing the threat of  further misery and hampering the nationwide repair efforts.

Snow in Sligo Photo: Val Robus

The severity of Storm Darwin appeared to catch everyone unawares, with forecasters forced to issue severe weather warnings at the same time as the gales roared through the country.

A Met Eireann spokesman said: “In terms of destruction it's probably the worst we've seen in a while.

Fallen tree in Coolock last night

“Today our highest winds were around 86 knots (160kph), so we're just under record territory for the south and west.

“This is the end of a month of storms so structures can already be loosened. The storm over Christmas 1998 might be the last time we've had anything quite as widespread, or caused as much damage.”

The forecaster, which had previously indicated that much of the country would escape the brunt of the storm, insisted red alerts had been issued from late on Tuesday night.

It said that other yellow and orange warnings were subsequently upgraded as the unprecedented power of the storm intensified further.

“There were lower-grade warnings for the rest of the country, which  were updated throughout the morning,” a spokesperson told the Irish Independent.

The warnings had been first implemented in the south, where winds had exceeded the 130kph red warning level, then further red warnings followed in Dublin and elsewhere.

Despite the frightening power of the storm, incredibly there were few injuries reported, but a series of near misses indicated its destructive capability.

Hospitals in Limerick and Cork were dealing with at least 30 cases of weather-related injuries.

In Laois, a mother, grandmother and three young children escaped death when a large tree fell on their car as they made their way home.

Collette Brennan (36) had only picked up her mother Mary (78) and also had baby Ollie, Eoin (8) and Ella (12) in the car when it was almost flattened in Portlaoise.

"The tree actually flung them over into the gateway of a house and broke live lines and that came down on top of them," Collette's husband Oliver said. He said his children had got a "terrible shock".

In Limerick, student Jill Holmes had a miraculous escape when winds ripped through her fourth-storey, top-floor apartment, blasting off a patio door and a chunk of her kitchen.

"I was just standing in the kitchen when I saw the door was coming ajar and it was coming off its hinges," she said.

"I just stepped away and it flew (out) on to the street. I tried to move everything away from the door. I hope that no-one got hurt there on the street."

A mini-tornado struck Roscommon General Hospital with one car being crushed by a fallen tree.

An evacuation of an entire floor at Ennis General Hospital in Clare was prompted after the staff and patients complained of hearing loud noises from the roof.

In Shannon, 150kph winds lifted an unoccupied commuter plane off the tarmac before it smashed to the ground, collapsing its undercarriage and leaving the aircraft resting on its left wing tip.

In Wexford, the roof of a €7m new swimming pool complex in New Ross was damaged.

In Galway, the Westside library had to be evacuated after several windows blew in.

As the storm moved up the country, the midlands and Dublin were hammered too.

A van driver cheated death when a large tree fell on top of his vehicle in Coolock.

Several residents in an apartment complex in Ashtown were evacuated after the gale-force winds “practically ripped the roof off”.

A car park in Dublin Airport sustained damage causing minor diversions at the site. Annavil Road in the south of the county was also closed due to falling slates.

The strong winds and gusts caused trees and overhead lines to fall, blocking several of the roads in some of the city's busiest residential areas.

Gardai reported road closures in the Clonsilla, Rathgar and Baldonnell areas. Dublin Bus services were disrupted on some routes.

Irish Rail also faced major disruption, and DART services between Dalkey and Bray were suspended due to damage sustained to overhead power lines.

All trains to Cork, Kerry and Limerick from Heuston Station were suspended, as were trains from Limerick and Athenry, while fallen trees and debris on the line caused delays nationwide.

Met Eireann says the strong winds are likely to continue for the coming days, but will be more likely ‘blustery' than stormy, with rain also due.

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Sam Griffin  and Ralph Riegel

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