Sunday 18 February 2018

'My daughter was just inches away' - Family's narrow escape from death after Storm Ophelia slams school roof into garden

  • Cork family's near miss after school roof slams into back garden
  • Storm Ophelia clean-up begins nationwide
  • 150,000 people without broadband, telephone and mobile services
  • 215,000 now without power as ESB crews work around the clock
  • 310,000 could lose their water supply today
  • Tributes paid to the three victims of Ophelia
  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has extended his sympathies to the families of those killed
  • Public urged to remain on high alert as dangers remain
  • Major backlog expected at GP surgeries and emergency departments
Ethel, pictured here with two of her children, watched in horror as the slab of heavy roofing ploughed into their garden at the height of the storm
Ethel, pictured here with two of her children, watched in horror as the slab of heavy roofing ploughed into their garden at the height of the storm
Principal Jim Long
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A family spoke of their narrow escape from death after a giant piece of a school roof was hurled 100m by Storm Ophelia and crashed into their back garden.

Mother of four Ethel O'Donovan said her daughter, Siobhan (19), was just about to walk out the back door to the garden shed when the heavy piece of roofing panel was catapulted over a wall from the nearby Douglas Community School.

"What saved us was the fact the piece of roof embedded itself into our garden decking," Ethel told Independent.ie

"Siobhan was just inches away - God only knows what would have happened if the piece of roof had hit the back of the house."

Principal Jim Long
Principal Jim Long

The 15m piece of roofing - heavy with layered insulation - crushed a garden shed, smashed part of the decking and came within inches of hitting the O'Donovan's back door.

"My husband only put the decking down a few weeks ago," Ethel said.

"I've been at him for almost 11 years to put down decking. He just gets it finished and this happens."

Three of Ethel's children, Hillary, Siobhan and Sean, watched in horror as the slab of heavy roofing ploughed into their garden at the height of the storm.

Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen trees Marina Park, Cork City
Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen trees Marina Park, Cork City Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen tree Knocknaheeny, Cork City Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Advertising hoarding is ripped off during Storm Ophelia near Kent Station Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
City council workers begin the clean up begins following Storm Ophelia, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
City council workers begin the clean up begins following Storm Ophelia, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Douglas Community School sports hall roof which was ripped off during Storm Ophelia, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen trees, N25 Cork City Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen trees, N25 Cork City Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Hurricane 'Ophelia'.... fallen tree Knocknaheeny, Cork City Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
City council workers begin the clean up begins following Storm Ophelia, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
City council workers begin the clean up begins following Storm Ophelia, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The family were in their kitchen when the roofing panel crashed over their wall - and cam to rest just inches from their back door and kitchen window.

"It was pretty scary, alright," admitted Sean (16).

"There was a loud whistling noise for ages as the storm built up and then this loud crashing noise."

Hurricane Ophelia hit when Ethel's husband, Harry, was in Romania and unable to get home due to the extreme weather.

Ethel paid tribute to the concern shown for local residents by Douglas school officials who called to every home after the storm had passed.

Douglas Community School Principal Jim Long admitted he still cannot believe the force of the winds that ripped the entire roof off the school gym - sending chunks of the roof sheeting and insulation flying almost 100 metres across gardens in the leafy Cork community.

The sheeting was ripped off the roof with such force it smashed through a concrete wall some 80m from the school - and then peppered local gardens in Traberg Avenue and Clermont Avenue with large fragments.

"I was here at the height of the storm and the winds were unbelievable," Mr Long said.

The principal had attended the school as a precautionary measure on Monday given the damaging winds forecast by Met Éireann.

Luckily, the school had closed on Department of Education instructions - and all local residents were safely locked inside their homes.

"The noise was just unbelievable," he said.

"The sound of the wind and the gusts was incredible. I heard a smashing sound and the next thing I realised that the roof of the gym had given way."

"I just cannot believe the damage that was caused - the power of the storm was incredible to have done this kind of destruction."

"The entire roof is gone - you are basically inside the gym looking up at the open sky through the roof girders."

Such was the fury of the storm that the heavy roof was ripped off and instantly shredded - with one giant piece, some 24m long, lying shattered across the school car park.

Other pieces - some as big as 10m long - were scattered into local gardens, the furthest piece of debris being found some 100m away.

A massive clean-up operation began at Douglas Community School with Loftus Demolition leading the effort to render the building safe and remove all roof debris.

AFTERMATH

Up to 360,000 people could lose their water supply today, as 215,000  customers are already without power following unprecedented Storm Ophelia. 

It is also feared that more customers will lose their broadband, telephone and mobile services today.

Irish Water said the "good news" is that the original number of 360,000 customers at risk of losing their water supply has now decreased to 310,000.

Three people lost their lives in the storm, which left a trail of destruction in its path across the country.

ESB Networks crews are working around the country to restore power to 215,000 customers, but warned that it could take up to 10 days before power is restored to all homes. They have already restored power to 30,000 customers since 8am today.

Crews are expecting assistance to be flown in from England and Scotland on Wednesday to help with the massive power outages.

Dangers

Following a National Emergency Coordination Group, its chairman Sean Hogan said: "There will be dangers even after the wind has passed.

"Unfortunately this storm has left tragedy in its wake and we extend our sympathies to these families."

He said the "next stage is now underway" and clean up crews are already on the ground in parts of the country.

Mr Hogan said the decision to effectively close down the country for the day by issuing a red alert weather warning was taken "based on the best scientific advice".

He said Met Eireann has entered "unchartered territory" but the emergency group was in no doubt that it was the correct decision.

"People should not take any risks over the coming days," Mr Hynes said, adding there are 5,000 individual faults.

The HSE have warned patients to expect "some disruption" this week as they deal with a backlog of cases. Some elective surgeries have cancelled on Tuesday.

Brendan Lawlor of the HSE asked that people only visit hospital emergency departments and GPS "if it is really necessary".

Victims

The three victims were killed in separate counties following tragic incidents directly linked to the strongest storm to strike Ireland in more than 50 years.

The public's adherence to warnings to remain indoors is credited with preventing further loss of life during the storm.

Trees that were hundreds of years old slammed onto roadways while everyday objects became projectile missiles in the Hurricane force gusts.

The first fatality occurred at approximately 11.40am outside Aglish village, Co Waterford.

Clare O’Neill (58) died after the car she was driving was struck by a tree. She was due to celebrate her 59th birthday on Tuesday October 17.

O1Neill.jpg
Clare O'Neill who was killed in a car accident during storm Ophelia

Ms O’Neill’s mother, who is in her 70s, was a passenger in the car and was injured during the incident and was transferred to Waterford Regional Hospital.

Her injuries have been described as non-life threatening.

Clare O’Neill worked as an oncology nurse for over three decades and recently worked as Cancer Support Co-Ordinator with the Cork ARC Cancer Support House.

“She was a very jolly woman, very helpful,” local shopkeeper Richard Hurley said.

“It’s a big shock, it’s a miserable morning, a young woman like that (dying) in such a tragic accident.”

The second tragic death caused by Ophelia occurred at around 12.30pm in Cahir, Co Tipperary.

Pyke.jpg
Michael Pyke, who was killed during storm Ophelia

Local man Michael Pyke (31) was attempting to clear a fallen tree with a chainsaw when the tragedy occurred. Gardai believe that Mr Pyke was attempting to move the tree on the Cahir to Ardfinnan road, when another tree collapsed and struck him, resulting in him falling into the chainsaw.

Emergency services were called but Mr Pyke was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was later removed to Clonmel Hospital.

Meanwhile, at approximately 2.45pm a serious road traffic collision occurred in the Ravensdale area of Dundalk, Co Louth. Fintan Goss, who was aged in his 30s, was the driver of a vehicle when it was struck by a tree. It is believed the married father-of-two had been travelling home early from work due to the storm when tragedy struck.

Mr Goss lived in Ravensdale with his wife and children.

fg.jpg
Fintan Goss has been named locally as the man who died when a tree hit his car earlier in the Ravensdale area of Dundalk.

They were supporters of Fine Gael and last night the chairperson of Dundalk Municipal District, Cllr John McGahon (FG) said: “This is an absolute tragedy. Fintan and the Goss family are extremely well regarded in the community.

“He will be greatly missed by his friends, family and the local community in Ravensdale. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar extended his sympathies to the families of those killed.

President Michael D Higgins also extended his sympathies to the families who lost loved ones during hurricane Ophelia.

Speaking as he continued his State Visit of Australia President Higgins said; "My heart goes out those who have lost loved ones and what they must be suffering". 

The President also acknowledged that the extent of the destruction the storm caused will continue to emerge today.  

"Some people will have been badly affected by flooding, others will have to reconstruct houses," he said. "I hope that once again that people will come to gather in a spirit of cooperation."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the "full resources of the state" will be deployed for the clean-up action.

"The full resources of the state will be deployed for the clean up operation. Crews from UK and Northern Ireland will be in to help," he told RTE.

This follows a call from British Prime Minister Teresa May yesterday when she offered the Taoiseach assistance in the recovery effort.

Mr Varadkar also urged continued continued caution today.

"We have had three tragic deaths but the most important thing is that no-one else else losses their life. There are still dangers even if the storm is gone.

Schools

Education Minister Richard Bruton said the decision to keep schools closed today was made in the "interests of safety".

"It is recognised that the decision to close schools will have a major impact on families and on the workforce," he said.

"However, this decision has been taken in the interests of safety for children and to provide clarity for everyone concerned."

"Re making up school days, my department will take stock and issue guidance as they have done in the past having consulted with school management," he added.

Clean-up

The Defence Force also currently have 470 soldiers on standby who are available to assist in any operations and soldiers have been deployed in Cork already.

As local authorities work to begin clean-up operations around the country, with the promise of extra funding from the Government, people have been urged to take care while travelling.

How did Ophelia affect you? Send your comments and pictures to contact@independent.ie. Remem

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