Weather alert: blackouts and travel chaos on Christmas Eve
* Met Eireann put Orange wind warning in place for Connacht
* Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Cork, Kerry and Limerick also get Orange wind warning
* Winds in Orange areas will reach 80kph and will gust up to 120kph, Met Eireann say
* A Yellow warning is in place in Leinster, Waterford and Tipperary
* The worst of the weather in the yellow areas will be between 2am and 11am
* Met Eireann say Christmas Day will be the 'calmest' day this week
* Another storm is forecast to hit country on St Stephen's Day
* Some 18,000 homes in Cork and Galway lost electricity yesterday
* ESB Networks say emergency crews are on standby for Christmas
* Eircom says 300 staff working up until Christmas Eve to reconnect 3,000 customers
Christmas travellers face the prospect of massive disruption today and thousands more homes could be left without power as another huge storm hits the country.
After a series of wild and windy days, another major storm will hit this evening, with Met Eireann issuing an Orange weather alert for parts of the country on Christmas Eve.
More than 12,000 homes were cut off yesterday at some stage after a combination of high winds and lightning strikes, with Salthill in Co Galway the worst affected. About 6,000 customers were hit at one stage.
More than 3,000 homes were cut off in Bandon, Co Cork.
There were outages across 14 other counties, with ESB crews taking between two and six hours to restore supply. ESB Networks said emergency crews were on standby to reconnect customers right through Christmas week.
Eircom said 300 emergency staff would work until later on Christmas Eve to reconnect 5,500 customers cut off since last week.
But there will be further disruption before Christmas as high winds today and tomorrow could hit both air and rail travel. Met Eireann forecaster Jean Byrne said Christmas Day would be the calmest day of the week, except for the north-west where wintry showers are expected.
But tonight and overnight into Christmas Eve will see gale-force south-westerly winds battering the country at a time when thousands of people are on the move.
The Orange wind warning was put in place for Connacht, Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Cork, Kerry and Limerick. South to south-west winds will reach average speeds of 80kph and will gust up to 129kph, said the forecaster.
A Yellow warning was in place for Leinster, Tipperary and Waterford with the worst of it expected to hit between 2am and 11am tomorrow.
And there will be little respite after Christmas, with a new storm developing in the Atlantic and expected to hit Ireland on St Stephen's Day.
Phone workers are battling to try and restore service in time for Christmas for the 5,500 customers still without a working phoneline or broadband.
Eircom has been receiving a daily deluge of reported faults but yesterday reported that the number of new reported faults had fallen for the first time in a week.
Some 2,000 customers had their service restored over the weekend and all available technicans have been diverted onto fault repairs, according to Eircom. The company said a full complement of resources will work over today and tomorrow, Christmas Eve, with crews doing "their very best" to restore service in time for Christmas to the remaining 5,500 customers currently without services.
Network damage is widespread but the Northwest and Southeast remain the worst impacted areas.
Lightning and high winds have caused widespread structural damage to polls and cables as well as damage to customer's in-home wiring.
Already, snow, hail and sleet caused problems on the roads, particularly in the west and north west, over the weekend.
A motorist whose car plunged into a river in the Barnesmore Gap, Co Donegal, incredibly walked away unhurt yesterday.
Kevin Harrold, from Donegal Recovery Services who went to the scene, said: "The driver was very very lucky.
"It looks as though his car hit a pile of hailstones and snow and went veering off the road and straight into the river.
"It appears he was driving slowly at the time and that probably prevented a more serious incident"
The head of the Garda Traffic Division in Donegal, Inspector Michael Harrison, said there had been a hailstorm in the area at the time. "The weather is going to get a lot worse over the coming days and I would appeal to motorists to be extremely careful," he said.
A number of roads were flooded and other routes were closed for a time due to a number of fallen trees, with Co Cork particularly badly hit yesterday.
Iarnrod Eireann said that platforms one and two at Kent Station in Cork, which had the roof canopy ripped off last Wednesday during a freak squall, would remain closed until the New Year.
Stormy conditions have also hit ferry services with Irish Ferries 'Swift' service to Holyhead cancelled yesterday and passengers transferred to normal ferries. Further cancellations of the fast ferry services are expected over the next 48 hours.
Ferry services from Dublin to Douglas (Isle of Man) were also hit by the heavy sea conditions. Delays at Dublin Airport yesterday were put down to the normal Christmas rush, rather than the weather.
But Peter O'Donnell from Irish Weather Online says today's storm could be as bad as or even worse than last Wednesday's weather, which escalated into the most serious category of Red Alert.
"Basically the chances seem about 50-50 in terms of minor damage or more substantial damage potential."
Greg Harkin and Ralph Riegel