Saturday 21 September 2019

Crews working 15-hour shifts to restore power post-Storm Ophelia

REPAIRS: ESB network crews at work at Drumlara
REPAIRS: ESB network crews at work at Drumlara
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

It was the morning after Storm Ophelia hit Kinsale, Co Cork. There was no electricity, water, phone or broadband. Streets were eerily empty. A small queue formed outside Fishy Fishy, the restaurant owned by celebrity chef Martin Shanahan.

He cranked up the generator to feed high-end fish and chips to hungry locals and tourists for a donation to charity. Further on, the White House hotel, owned by the Frawley family, was packed but in darkness.

Michael Frawley Senior filled buckets of water from a spring outside the town and the generator looked after the kitchen, feeding tourists and locals, even through the storm. "You saw exactly what it's like when your ancestors lived here many years ago," he told his American guests.

The operation, mounted by ESB Networks to restore power to Ireland, is one of the largest in its history.

Last Sunday night, as Status Red was declared across Ireland, EBS Networks put its crews on emergency footing. Around 2,500 frontline repair crews and another 1,000 contractors were mobilised to report to their local depots, as Storm Ophelia hit. In its wake, it had 6,000 separate sites requiring repairs and at one point, an unprecedented 385,000 homes and businesses, without power. Crews mustered at 6.30am at local depots and worked until 10pm or later.

Caterers were brought in to feed them hot breakfasts before going out. Denis Cambridge, southern division manager, said "one in three" crews were also without power at home. "So they won't have a hot shower when they go home or a hot cup of tea," he said. Many had cancelled holidays to work, he said.

About 250 crew were flown or ferried in from Northern Ireland, Scotland and the UK. A crew from France landed in Rosslare last Thursday to boost efforts in Wexford. The Air Corps flew crews over Sherkin Island and Cape Clear islands off West Cork. The army was on standby. On Burke's Hill in Cork city, six fallen trees cut power to 15 customers.

Read More: The story of a hurricane and of the Met experts who tracked it

Were it not for the army, restoring power would have taken days. Priority was given to water treatment plants, networks for health and Garda services. Rural customers have had to wait longer. By noon last Friday 42,000 customers, mostly in Bandon, Dunmanway and Fermoy, Wexford town and New Ross were still waiting. ESB Networks promised to continue working until "every last family, farm and business" is back to normal.

Sunday Independent

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