THE family of two elderly sisters who cheated death after a suspected gas leak at their home have hailed as heroes the two gardai and a neighbour who dragged them to safety.
The tributes came as Eily and Noreen Naughton were recovering in Cork University Hospital (CUH) from their ordeal on Saturday morning.
Both sisters have regained consciousness, though Eily (92) remains on oxygen as a precaution.
Noreen (84) is able to speak with doctors and yesterday managed to eat a breakfast of porridge.
Both are expected to make full recoveries, though they will remain in hospital for several days.
Their conditions are described as stable and comfortable.
Last night their family paid tribute to Gurranabraher gardai, friend Angela Marshall and neighbours in the Blarney Street community for helping to save the sisters who once ran a shop in the area.
"Angela saved their lives - she is a true hero," a family spokesperson said.
"We are so grateful to her not just for the kindness she shows Eily and Noreen on a daily basis but also for her quick-thinking in contacting the gardai on Saturday morning.
"She definitely saved their lives. There is no doubt she helped avert a double tragedy.
"Thanks to her we will have a Christmas with both Eily and Noreen around when it could so easily have been a tragedy."
Angela modestly dismissed the praise and said she simply did what any good neighbour would do.
"I felt it was very strange when there was no answer at the door on Saturday. They would normally be expecting me to call," she said.
"I knocked, there was no answer and then when I opened the letterbox to call to them, I got a very strong smell."
Angela immediately suspected something was wrong and rang Gurranabraher Garda Station.
"There was a very strong smell just inside the front door and we all knew something was not right," she said.
Angela said she feared for her two elderly friends, particularly when she got inside the house and saw the sickly look on Noreen's face.
However, once the two sisters were taken into the fresh air they showed immediate signs of recovery.
"Angela is very good to both ladies and calls in to see them on a regular basis," said Blarney Street Residents Association chairman Tom Coleman.
He said he would now be raising the issue of providing free gas alarms to all pensioners.
An Italian man who witnessed the incident said the two gardai and neighbours saved the sisters' lives.
"It was a matter of life and death," he said.
Once gardai had broken in to the house they were hit with the smell of gas but still managed to drag the women to safety outside.
Both women were found lying unconscious on the floor, apparently after being overcome by fumes while preparing some food.
It is unclear whether they were victims of carbon monoxide or if there was a leak in the gas system powering a household appliance.