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Friday 22 August 2014

St Jude's storm: Irish dad who died as tree fell was 'in wrong place at wrong time'

Eight dead across Europe as wind and rain take their toll

Laurence Dodds

Published 28/10/2013 | 17:10

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Donal Drohan, originally from Waterford, died after a tree fell on his car in Watford.
Donal Drohan, originally from Waterford, died after a tree fell on his car in Watford.
Bethany Freeman (17) died after a huge tree toppled on to a caravan she was sleeping in as hurricane-force winds buffeted Britain
Bethany Freeman (17) died after a huge tree toppled on to a caravan she was sleeping in as hurricane-force winds buffeted Britain

AN Irish dad was in “the wrong place at the wrong time” when he was killed by a falling tree as storms lashed Britain and Europe today.

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The family of Donal Drohan (51), who was originally from Waterford but living in London, have paid tribute this  evening to "a loving husband and father of three".

Mr Drohan, from Harrow, north west London, died after his car was struck at the eastern end of the bridge over the River Colne on Lower High Street in Watford shortly before 7am.

He was among eight people to die as a result of the heavy winds and rain that lashed southern England and Europe. The other dead were a 17-year-old girl crushed in a mobile home by a tree and two people who died in a gas explosion triggered by a falling tree.

Two people were also killed by a tree in Germany while there was one death in the Netherlands and one in France.

A 14-year-old boy who was swept out to sea off the Sussex coast is feared dead after the coast guard called off the search.

The Met Office has now lifted its amber warning as the heart of the storm blew away from Norfolk and over the North Sea to continental Europe.

People watch as waves crash against the harbour wall at Porthcawl in south Wales October 28, 2013. Britain's strongest storm in a decade battered southern regions on Monday, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations, cutting power lines and disrupting the travel plans of millions of commuters. Winds of up to 99 miles per hour (160 km per hour) lashed southern England and Wales in the early hours of Monday, shutting down rail services in some areas during rush hour. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden (BRITAIN - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY DISASTER)
People watch as waves crash against the harbour wall at Porthcawl in south Wales October 28, 2013. Britain's strongest storm in a decade battered southern regions on Monday, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations, cutting power lines and disrupting the travel plans of millions of commuters. Winds of up to 99 miles per hour (160 km per hour) lashed southern England and Wales in the early hours of Monday, shutting down rail services in some areas during rush hour. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden (BRITAIN - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY DISASTER)
A general view of the scene in Hever, Kent, where a 17-year-old girl was killed when a tree blew on to the caravan where she was sleeping. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday October 28, 2013. See PA story WEATHER Storm. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
A general view of the scene in Hever, Kent, where a 17-year-old girl was killed when a tree blew on to the caravan where she was sleeping. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday October 28, 2013. See PA story WEATHER Storm. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
The roof of a pedestrian bridge which collapsed during strong winds is seen outside London Bridge Station in London October 28, 2013. Strong storm winds and rain battered southern parts of England and Wales early on Monday, forcing flight cancellations, disrupting trains and closing roads and major bridges. Local media dubbed the storm "St. Jude", after the patron saint of lost causes who is traditionally celebrated on October 28.   REUTERS/Dylan Martinez   (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER)
The roof of a pedestrian bridge which collapsed during strong winds is seen outside London Bridge Station in London October 28, 2013. Strong storm winds and rain battered southern parts of England and Wales early on Monday, forcing flight cancellations, disrupting trains and closing roads and major bridges. Local media dubbed the storm "St. Jude", after the patron saint of lost causes who is traditionally celebrated on October 28. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER)

More than 450,000 homes suffered power cuts across England have had energy restored, but 166,000 are disconnected.

Mr Drohan’s family released a statement about tragedy, saying: "He was the best husband and father anyone could wish for. You couldn't find anyone who had a bad word to say about him.

"He was very supportive to everybody who knew him and couldn't say no to helping out with anything.

"He was an active member of the community who was involved with local groups and had recently helped Team Harrow of The Challenge Network helping to shape the lives of hundreds of young people within the local community."

A police officer at the scene of the incident said that a millisecond's difference in Mr Drohan's journey would have made for "a different story".

The unnamed officer said: "This is a major artery into Watford and we were lucky it was school half-term. If it wasn't, we'd have had a lot more traffic coming through here."

The jagged stump of the tree, about three feet across and broken 12 feet up, could be seen in the greenery at the side of the road.

Investigators examined the site to rule out foul play before the main part of the tree trunk was lifted off the car with a mobile crane and loaded on to a container truck. The rest of the tree was fed into a shredder lorry.

Mr Drohan was a long-serving local authority employee and had recently taken up golf.

Susan Hall, leader of Harrow Council, said: "This is an absolute tragedy and everyone is devastated. Donal was one of our public realm managers and had worked for us for nearly 25 years.

"He was always cheerful, and passionate about his job keeping our streets clean. His council colleagues are finding this very hard to deal with. Our thoughts are with Donal's family both here and in Ireland."

Richard Searle, director of Quality Lounge Suites in Watford, said the incident was "very upsetting" and he was "very sorry" for the man's family.

He said: "It happened about a minute before I got here. I was driving to work - normally I try to get in early - and as I got here, the traffic had slowed down. I couldn't go straight in, so I pulled on the drive, parked my car up, and then I walked down the road assuming there'd been an accident.

"I noticed as I walked down there that a tree had fallen on top of a red Peugeot. I didn't like the look of what I saw and it was too late for me to do anything. One minute earlier and it could have been me. I will say the police and ambulance were very quick to arrive."

Roger Rogero, 54, a sales consultant at HSS Hire, also arrived at work just after the accident happened at the junction near a Wickes store and a Mercedes showroom.

He said: "There was a police car just outside us, officers stationed by the telephone box, and loads of police and police cars in Wickes, opposite the Mercedes dealer. I could see four or five police cars, ambulances, and fire engines. Beyond that it was just a mess, chaos."

The car had been travelling south-eastwards - on the opposite side of the road to the tree that fell - and was towed away just before 11am, he added.

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