Defence Forces rally to aid of snowbound elderly
The big freeze brought the army out to keep the wheels here in motion, write Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan, while UK cannabis growers were caught out
Almost 1,000 Defence Forces troops and 350 vehicles were deployed to provide around-the-clock support to emergency services throughout the three days of extreme weather that brought the country to a halt.
Members of both the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence provided ambulance services and patient transfers for hospitals, while also helping local authorities to clear roads following the heavy snowfall.
Troops transferred dialysis patients in Cork, Wexford, Waterford, Meath and Dublin, and cleared snow from the Crumlin Children's Hospital and Harold's Cross Hospice.
In Kildare, the army and Civil Defence came to the rescue of nurses and health care staff in a county badly hit by snowdrifts and impassable roads.
Staff were stranded in several nursing homes in the county, and at the hospital in Naas, some for as long as 48 hours, according to sources. "They were exhausted," said one source.
Once the storm passed, seven Civil Defence 4x4s were deployed yesterday morning to collect 20 staff from facilities in Kildare town, Leixlip and Naas to bring them safely home.
Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe last night paid tribute to members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence who contributed to the storm relief efforts.
"Defence Force personnel responded to every request which ranged from transferring a significant number of dialysis patients, transporting medication to Crumlin Children's Hospital and ensuring a sick child could receive a passport so that they could travel abroad for medical attention," Mr Kehoe told the Sunday Independent.
"Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence showed once again that during a time of emergency, the community is put first."
The majority of Defence Forces personnel and vehicles were deployed in the South East, South and East but also in other counties - specifically in Cork, Dublin, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath, Meath, Carlow, Kildare, Waterford, Laois, and Donegal.
Meanwhile, as the unusually cold weather gripped Europe, hundreds of flights were cancelled, trains broke down, and motorists found themselves stuck on roads and trapped in icy conditions for hours.
The big chill froze canals in Amsterdam. Ice on the historic Prinsengracht canal was thick enough for residents to lace up their skates and glide across its frozen surface. Tourists without skates slid across the ice.
"It's just cool. You can go fast and you see the world from a slightly different perspective," said one skater.
Hundreds of flights to and from Heathrow were cancelled, including 200 British Airways flights alone. Virgin Atlantic cancelled nine outbound long-haul flights to destinations. Several Virgin flights were grounded owing to bad weather in the US, where very strong winds, low cloud and freezing rain led to more cancellations.
Gatwick, London City, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports also reported cancellations.
Other European airports were forced to close down entirely. Authorities at Geneva's airport suspended air traffic for two full days amid heavy snowfall.
Others avoided trains, boats and planes entirely, in order to get out and play in the snow - an activity not without its own dangers.
Actress Sarah Parish was hospitalised and will undergo surgery after injuring her leg while attempting to snowboard on a "cheap plastic" sledge. The star of Broadchurch and Bancroft posted a picture on Instagram of her leg in a cast from her hospital bed. The 49-year-old actress also shared a picture and a video of herself being tended to by paramedics while lying in the snow.
"They're putting a bloody great big pin right through my shin!!" she said. "Note to self: cheap plastic sledges are for sitting in and gently trundling down primary slopes NOT a substitute for a stand up snowboard."
Last Friday, Parish had shared a video of herself sledging down a hill in her Hampshire garden in the snow.
Among the well-wishers was Amanda Holden, who commented: "Darling I just cannot believe this." The Britain's Got Talent star added: "Gin on its way."
Parish, who is also known for roles in W1A, Doctor Who and Mistresses, was recently revealed to be returning for a second series of Bancroft, in which she plays respected yet ruthless police officer DCI Elizabeth Bancroft.
And snow - or the absence of it - was also credited by police for helping expose a vast cannabis farm in the town of Keighley in England
As the West Yorkshire town fell prey to the same blizzards blighting much of Europe last week, suspicion fell on one conspicuous property. It was the only one in the street without snow on the roof.
Police officers were greeted by a strong smell of cannabis as they approached the house - on aptly named Arctic Street - and found 322 plants inside. A strong heat source is required to cultivate a cannabis den, meaning any snow that landed on the building's roof during the cold spell had melted.