'Everyone was so very, very lucky... it's a miracle' - School kids' miracle escape from overturned bus
Ffity-two children had a miraculous escape as a school bus swerved off a Cork road in torrential rainfall and overturned with a small tree being smashed through the cabin.
Incredibly, the most serious injury from the 8.15am accident at Cregg South on the Ballyhooly-Fermoy Road in north Cork was a fractured leg sustained by one teenage boy.
A total of four children were taken to Cork University Hospital.
Three were described as 'walking wounded' with cuts, bruises and shock.
The fourth sustained a fractured leg but was otherwise described as in good spirits.
Gardai admitted it was incredible that more serious injuries weren't involved given the severity of the accident.
The bus was carrying around 40 children to three secondary schools in Fermoy - Colasite an Chraoibhin, Loreto and St Colman's.
They range in age from 13 to 17 years.
Most are from the Ballyhooly and Grange areas.
It appears the bus driver lost control of the 45-seater coach as the vehicle was descending a steep hill.
Gardai suspect that large amounts of surface water from the torrential rainfall may also have been a factor.
The vehicle swerved into the ditch but then appears to have travelled sideways into the sharp bend above a sunken field.
The coach smashed through the ditch and crashed into the overgrowth on its side.
Three youngsters were trapped when a small tree was driven spear-like through the glass cabin windows.
But incredibly the tree didn't cause any serious injuries.
The bus driver was uninjured and was able to assist all bar three of the youngsters out of the wrecked coach.
Fermoy Gardai and fire brigade units were at the scene within minutes.
The road was closed and a fleet of ambulances raced to the scene.
As word began to filter out about the accident, a number of distraught parents began to arrive at the roadway.
"Everyone was so very, very lucky. It could have been an awful lot worse," a Fermoy garda told the Herald.
Fermoy fire brigade units were able to free the trapped children within minutes.
"It is a miracle because you only have to look at the state of the coach to realise what a serious accident this was," one said.
One mother said she is still in shock over the accident.
"I couldn't believe it. I got a phone call to say there had been an accident but no-one knew what had happened or how bad it was," Eileen Gowen said.
Eileen had two children on the coach, Caoimhe (14) and Jeff (13).
"I am just going to the CUH now. She (Caoimhe) has bruises to her neck and back. But thank God she will be OK. But we are all very upset."
Eileen's son, Jeff, escaped injury on the coach but was deeply shocked by his ordeal.
Counselling and medical support was provided at all schools in particular Colaiste an Chraoibhin where the bulk of the students attended.
Parents praised the school and the Health Service Executive (HSE) for their prompt and professional response to the near-tragedy.
Gardai warned that the road will remain closed at Cregg South for some time.
Heavy lifting equipment is required to remove the coach which will then be taken for a full mechanical inspection.
Garda accident scene investigators today commenced a detailed examination of the roadway for clues as to precisely what happened.
Gardai have appealed for anyone who may have witnessed the collision or the bus in the moments before the accident to contact them.
Officers stressed that children will not be interviewed for some time to allow them recover from the shock of the accident.
In a statement issued this morning, Bus Eireann thanked the emergency services for their quick response.
"Bus Éireann can confirm a vehicle sub-contracted for its school transport services - travelling on the road from Pound Cross, Rathcormac to Ballyhooly - was involved in an accident at 8.20am this morning, which resulted in the bus leaving the road," they said.
"The bus is operated by Glenferry Coaches and was on route to several post primary schools in Fermoy.
"The emergency services were immediately contacted and attended the scene of the accident.
"The 53 seater bus had 52 students on board, when the incident occurred - following adverse weather conditions this weekend.
"The driver and all school pupils were able to make their way off the bus with the assistance of the emergency services," they continued.
"Three pupils – who are understood to have minor injuries – were taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment.
"The cause of the accident has not yet been established, but is currently under investigation by Bus Éireann and the relevant authorities.
"The company would like thank the emergency services and the Gardaí Síochána for their swift response in dealing with the incident."
A status orange rainfall warning remained in place for Kerry until midday today, while a status yellow warning for Galway, Mayo and Clare, Cork and Limerick was also issued until midday.
The worst driving conditions last night were in Clifden, Co Galway and Achill, Co Mayo, according to AA Roadwatch spokesperson Arwen Foley.
Late last night, gardaí in Clifden warned motorists to travel only in exceptional circumstances due to extremely heavy rainfall.
Sky road in Clifden was closed due to a small landslide spilling onto the road, while Beach road was closed due to flooding. Road closures were also enforced in the Cleggan area.
Meanwhile, a part of the Ring of Kerry – between Kells and Caherciven – was impassable, but this road has since reopened.
“In Kerry it stopped raining at around 11pm last night. There was flooding in a few places and parts of west Kerry seem to have been worst affected,” Ms Foley said.
Road conditions are described as slippery due to surface water.
Ms Foley said a few roads around Tralee were flooded and rendered impassable last night, and though these roads have reopened care is still needed.
The latest warnings came after flooding incidents in the south-west over the weekend.
Twenty homes were flooded in Miltown Malbay in Co Clare. Fire crews rescued a couple trapped in their car in the coastal village of Liscannor, also in Clare, with the county council forced to issue a travel warning to other motorists.
"It is like someone picked up our house and dropped it into the path of a river, I've never seen the like of it," said Liscannor resident Grainne Flannery.
"We're used to water coming in from the sea but not down from the hills. It was so strange to see. Sandbags would have been useless because the water was coming from everywhere."
In Ballyvourney, Co Cork, gardai closed roads as flood waters turned to rivers.
In Cork city last night, residents of areas hit by flood waters were taking no chances as they deployed sandbags to protect their homes.
The rainfall at the weekend was exceptional, said Irish Weather Online's Fergal Tierney.
"At least two trillion litres of rain fell on Ireland on Friday and Saturday," he said.
"I took the average rainfall over the 26 synoptic stations - 23.6 mm. However, mountainous regions will have received several times this value, except there are no stations up there to record it.
"It's a lot of water, whichever way you look at it. It's enough to fill almost 800,000 Olympic swimming pools."
But the same counties which were pounded by heavy rain on Friday and Saturday were at the centre of the new alerts last night, as more heavy rain hit the west and south-west.
"We can expect heavy rain and thundery downpours with the possibility of localised flooding, particularly in the west and south-west," said Met Eireann forecaster Evelyn Cusack.
"While the south-west and west will receive the brunt of the bad weather, the north and north-west will be mainly dry and bright, with just a few scattered showers."
The weather is expected to settle later today and remain mainly bright and dry tomorrow. But a new low-pressure front could bring very heavy rain to the east and south-east of the country on Wednesday.
"There is a risk of another spell of heavy rain in parts of the south and east as another frontal depression tracks near Ireland," said Cusack.
"It will be cool and breezy, with highest temperatures of only 12C to 15C in fresh to strong north-easterly winds."
Thursday and Friday will be bright, blustery days with sunny spells and good drying, alongside passing heavy showers.