Wednesday 14 November 2018

'Warnings were issued' - Government insists it was prepared for Storm Ali

A tree collapsed on a house near Fine Gael TD Noel Rock's home this morning (Photo: Noel Rock Twitter)
A tree collapsed on a house near Fine Gael TD Noel Rock's home this morning (Photo: Noel Rock Twitter)
A tree down on O'Connell Street (Photo: Independent.ie)

Ralph Riegel and Cormac McQuinn

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney urged the public to avoid 'storm fatigue' as he defended the Government and Met Éireann's handling of Storm Ali.

Mr Coveney insisted the State was fully prepared for Storm Ali with proper weather warnings in place - but suggested that "perhaps the public weren't."

The Cork TD said that, after hard-hitting storms such as Ophelia and Emma which attracted Status Red alerts, it was possible people didn't take sufficient notice of Storm Ali's approach when a red alert was not issued.

The scale of damage inflicted by Storm Ali, and the violence of its wind gusts, prompted many to query whether a full Status Red alert should have been issued.

A tree down on O'Connell Street (Photo: Independent.ie)
A tree down on O'Connell Street (Photo: Independent.ie)

A Swiss tourist in her 50s died when Storm Ali gusts lifted the caravan in which she was sleeping outside Clifden in Galway and toppled it over a cliff.

Mr Coveney insisted the Government and Met Éireann were fully prepared and both Status Orange and Status Yellow alerts were issued in good time.

Council officials have suggested that the damage caused by Storm Ali was, in part, exaggerated by trees already weakened by Storms Ophelia and Emma.

"There certainly has been many (Government) meetings in the build up to this storm - we could see it coming," Mr Coveney told RTE.

"The weather warnings have been there and been clear for a number of days now in terms of (Status) Orange and Yellow (alerts)."

"I think sometimes when people don't see a red warning, they assume that everything will be fine."

"But if you look at the preparations that are there and the pace at which the ESB, in particular, will be responding to the huge challenge of 180,000 households being without power and trying to get them all back within a couple of days, you realise that actually the infrastructure of the State was prepared for this."

"Perhaps the public weren't though," he said.

"In terms of what you describe as perhaps storm fatigue - if you don't see a red warning, then maybe people don't sit up and take (sufficient) notice."

"Obviously we have seen a fatality and an absolute tragedy in Galway today."

"But people do need to listen to Met Éireann when they are issuing (Status) Orange warnings - that is a serious warning and people need to take account of it.

Fianna Fáil Deputy Leader Dara Calleary raised the issued of preparedness in the Dáil - and queried whether the national emergency committee had met in advance of Storm Ali.

Social Protection minister Regina Doherty - who was filling in for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - insisted the Government and Met Éireann had consulted over the approaching storm and issued proper alerts.

But Mr Calleary said the chaos caused by Storm Ali raised questions over the level of preparedness.

"The level of preparedness doesn’t seem to be as effective as it previously was," he said.

He said Ms Doherty's department announced it had closed 11 offices.

He said there are a considerable number of trees down around the county and asked if the emergency coordination committee met in advance of the storm.

"They did superb work last winter. Can I ask that this situation and this level of relative unpreparedness does not arise again during the course of this winter?"

However, Ms Doherty said she disagreed with Mr Calleary about the level of preparedness.

"The National Director for Fire and Emergency Management has been monitoring the evolving situation and met with Met Éireann on a daily basis for the last week," she said.

"The fact that I closed (11) offices is to protect the safety of my own people and indeed the clients and customers that use our offices to make sure that they don’t go outside if they don’t need to."

"The ploughing was cancelled today was to protect the tens of thousands of people that would be putting themselves in the line of an orange and yellow [weather] warning today.

"So we are prepared."

"The warnings have been issued over the last number of days."

"The security forces and the local authorities, the ESB are out in their numbers this morning looking after the 140,000 people who are without electricity, clearing the roads of the branches and the trees that have been damaged over the night time."

"We can only do what we are doing which is responding to something which we were prepared for in the last number of days and the yellow and orange warnings will remain in place (until this evening)," she added.

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