Storm Rachel: Red alert forces school shutdown as 16,000 without power
* 16,000 ESB customers left without power
* All Irish Ferries crossings cancelled until this evening
* Hundreds of schools closed across the country
* Gardai warn 'thrill-seekers' not to venture near the coast
* Small aircraft diverted from Dublin Airport to Belfast
Thousands of people across the country are without electricity following a night of strong and gale force winds with gusts of up to 150km/h.
ESB report that Storm Rachel, which barrelled in from the Atlantic overnight, damaged electricity infrastructure in the North West, West and South of the country.
There are currently 6,500 customers without electricity supply, the majority in the north west of the country.
At one point ESB Networks estimated approximately 16,000 homes and businesses were without power in areas Donegal, Cork, Killarney, Galway/Athlone, Tullow and Wexford, despite already restoring power to 5,000 customers.
They confirmed they are continuously monitoring the situation and updates will be issued to customers.
“Conditions on the ground are challenging with strong winds and rain hampering restoration and making conditions unsafe for our technicians,” a spokesperson for ESB Networks said this morning.
“From early this morning, when it is safe to do so, ESB Networks crews will be out making the electricity network safe and assessing the damage, so that crews can be deployed to restore power as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Winds are starting to increase in the NW, with Galway and Donegal recording Red Level winds once again. pic.twitter.com/HvSKDqwYtb— Met Éireann (@MetEireann) January 15, 2015
ESB said they sincerely apologise to all without power this morning, but warned customers they are not to approach broken lines or damaged poles and they are to keep children and animals away. Instead, customers can report damage to ESB on 1850 372 999.
All available staff in the affected areas are being deployed. Furthermore, crews from other locations, not as badly affected by the storm, will be travelling to assist in fixing the faults. You can check progress in your area by visiting www.esbpowercheck.ie.
Power should be restored to the 10,000 customers without power in the Donegal areas of Glenties and Derrybeg by late afternoon.
ESB have also reported lightning in the Galway/Mayo area and said that if customers lose their power in the area, it will be tomorrow before it is restored.
The storm is NOT finished Met.ie has a RED ALERT in place. We are assessing damage &planning restoration any updates http://t.co/wVVh78u1C7— ESB Networks (@ESBNetworks) January 15, 2015
Eircom reports phone services have also been affected by the storm with 6,300 fixed line faults and more expected by Eircom this morning.
Furthermore, 25 to 30 mobile phone masts are not transmitting, with Donegal being the worst affected county.
All road users esp Hi sided vehicles, cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians take extra care especially near waterways. See & be seen, Bsafe— An Garda Síochána (@GardaTraffic) January 15, 2015
Meanwhile, hundreds of schools are set to close today.
The full brunt of Storm Rachel, with 150kmh gusts, was felt overnight, with western counties placed on red alert.
The worst of the bad weather hit between 6am and 9am this morning but weather warnings are to remain in place until 5pm this evening.
Schools have been urged to “err on the side of caution” and remain closed if there are concerns about the ferocity of the storm.
Read more: Counties braced for Storm Rachel
For commuters, Irish Rail confirmed that delays have eased since this morning and now stand at 10-15 minute delays to Intercity services. The delays are as a result of Irish Rail's maximum speed of 50mph speed restriction during stormy weather.
Gardai have warned all motorists to slow down and take their time on the roads as there is a high risk of strong winds.
Dublin Airport Authority said there were some diversions, but overall it was 'business as usual' this morning. Passengers are advised to check flight status with airline before coming to the airport.
Aer Lingus confirmed six flights by its regional carrier Stobart Air were diverted to Belfast, along with one Aer Lingus flight from Brussels which landed in Manchester.
Ryanair said that due to high winds, three flights to Dublin from London Stansted, Oslo Rygge and Rome diverted to Liverpool, Shannon and Manchester.
"Customers will remain on board while the aircraft are refuelled and will position back to Dublin," she added.
Cork Airport reports their first wave of flight departures to be operating normally to schedule since 6am.
All journeys with Irish Ferries on the Dublin to Holyhead route (and return route) this morning and this afternoon have been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions at sea. The first boat to sail is the Holyhead - Dublin cruise ferry at 8pm this evening.
Passengers are advised to contact Irish Ferries for alternative sailing arrangements. Check updates here
Meanwhile, Donegal's Harry Blaney Bridge in Fanad has been closed as a precaution, with the council warning of high winds and flooding.
"It was consistently very stormy all night, and in the next three or four hours the storms are set to strengthen and move inland," Met Eireann's Gerald Fleming told Newstalk's Breakfast.
"Coastal areas will get the brunt of it, but it will move inland. Violent showers are also expected to move inland, as well as strong gusts.
"This storm will last right through most of the daylight hours today.
"The West and North Western seaboards are most exposed. Winds are up to Red Level already, but generally we're experiencing 70-80km with gusts up to 130kmh."
Mr Fleming said high tides are not a particular worry and mass flooding is not expected.
However, he reiterated that roads are a 'dangerous place to be in this sort of weather'.
"If you can minimise the time you spend out of doors, then that would be wise," he added.
"Things will ease off only very slowly through the latter part of today and tonight."
“This is a potentially dangerous storm,” Met Éireann’s spokesman Gerard Fleming warned. He said that the storm would continue today and it would be midnight before winds abate.
He was speaking at the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Dublin, which is advising on the progress of the storm.
Storm Rachel is being caused by a rapidly deepening low-pressure system that has been moving across the Atlantic, interacting with jet streams as it approaches our shores.
The storm comes on the tail of heavy snow which blanketed parts of Ireland yesterday, blocking roads and giving many children an unexpected day off.
The latest storm has been caused by rapidly decreasing low pressure in the Atlantic - a phenomenon known as a "weather bomb".
A red status weather alert remains in place until noon today for Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare and Kerry.
After that, an orange alert will remain in place for those counties.
Flights last night between Cork and London Heathrow were cancelled as the disruption began.
ESB Networks crews, who re-connected 4,000 homes in Donegal yesterday because of the snow storm, were working to restore power to homes hit by Storm Rachel.
Achill Island off Co Mayo was the first to go, with 245 customers on the island losing power at teatime.
The crews had been scrambled to deal with power cuts caused by the storm, the worst since February 12 last year. That storm brought chaos to Munster and parts of Leinster.
Last night they were dealing with faults affecting thousands of customers in counties Cork, Kerry, Wexford, Waterford, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and Donegal.
But more than 2,000 homes and businesses remained without power late last night.
Flooding was also reported in parts of Donegal and Galway and dozens of felled tress hampered driving conditions on roads across the country.
Sean Hogan, from the Department of the Environment, said flooding could pose a risk in some areas. "It may give rise to localised flooding. The fundamental and essential message is people will be confronted with extreme conditions. People do need to take account of the conditions. The wind will abate as it crosses the country," he said.
However, those who fear a repeat of last year's flooding were reassured by climatologist and senior lecturer with the Department of Geography at University College Cork, Dr Kieran Hickey.
He said Storm Rachel won't come close to causing the same amount of damage as the storms that devastated the country last January and February.
"At the moment, from what I can see, it's nothing more than a standard winter gale - not nearly on the scale of the really bad ones we had last winter," Dr Hickey said.
"There's still going to be a bad winter gale, which we get two or three times a year most winters."
Garda Inspector John Ferris warned "thrill-seekers" not to venture near the coast.
"We would appeal to thrill-seekers going to cliffs and coastal paths to look at the beauty of nature. We have encountered cases where people have brought kids to these areas, which is completely irresponsible."
Yesterday saw chaos across western counties after heavy snow falls.
More than 300 schools were closed due to poor road conditions and the cancellation of bus services.
It led to an unexpected "snow day" for thousands of children.