Saturday 19 January 2019

Monumental snow storm brings brings joy – and havoc – to area

The skis were out as were the gritters as once-in-a-lifetime storm swept through district

North Street in New Ross
North Street in New Ross
Some men trying to help an ambulance get moving on John Street
Sinead and Aoife McDonald in Terrerath
Garda Kevin Burke and Garda Noel O’Donovan

David Looby

Storm Emma and The Beast from the East transformed New Ross and district into a winter wonderland last week, and in the process wreaked havoc on transportation, services, water and ESB supply lines.

The first flurries took place on Tuesday, by which time bread was sold out from every shop in the district, from Graiguenamanagh to Wellingtonbridge and from The Hook to New Ross. Most schools closed on Wednesday.

People, stranded at home for a seeming eternity, turned to social media where jokes about 'Breadxit' and snow photo sharing was in full flow, remaining so for the following days. Along with bread, eggs, milk, cigarettes and potatoes were big sellers in local shops, including Centra, Irishtown, New Ross, where bread sold out every day. Lake Region, the county's biggest employer, employing around 800 people, informed staff that the plant would close on Thursday and remain closed until Sunday.

Storm Emma took hold on the first day of March, Thursday, as a Red Alert warning came into effect from 4 p.m. Roads across the district including at Glenmore and Campile where gritting didn't take place on Wednesday night were particularly icy that morning. All shops and supermarkets closed, as did banks, post offices, New Ross and Graiguenamangh libraries, local government buildings and lesiure centres. Only a handful of pubs remained open, along with hotels.

Area executive engineeer Abraham Dunne said there were two lorries spreading salt on national roads, with another salt lorry spreading salt in town in advance of the storm's arrival. The council winter fleet included four snow ploughs and four tractors with gritters. 'When the snow started falling on the first day all the salting lorries and gritting machines were working along with all work force of 45 men,' Mr Dunne said.

Area Manager Sinead Casey said: 'The next morning when the district was covered in blanket of snow, many of staff living in the country were snowed in and the four snow ploughs were activated. There was five council men working in town with three loading shovels clearing the main arteries of the town and around emergency services like the medical centre and the hospital and nursing home. We scaled up then hiring in over 20 large machines to clear tracks through the road network - this has been ongoing since. 99 per cent of the district roads are now passable.'

Council workers assisted the HSE, the Gardai, the fire service, ESB and the army. 'It was a great community effort as farmers, plant hire and local people all took to the roads helping one another. I want to thank all the council men and the people contracted in to drive the snow moving machines as they worked from day light into the early hours of the morning helping emergency services and trying to clear the snow.'

By Friday morning large snow drifts could be seen across the district, with the south west Wexford areas of Duncannon and Ballycullane being severely affected. A 20 minute journey to Ballycullane by a fire tender took almost three hours on Friday such was the depth of snow, By then the electricity was out in a number of villages, with no water in the taps also. Many shops opened on Friday morning with pubs reporting a strong trade from early in the day.

For residents of the Wellingtonbridge, Foulksmills and Clongeen areas it was back to the 1950s time as the power went out on Friday and didn't return until Sunday evening. James Ryan of Ryan's Undertakers said the funeral of a local man who died last Tuesday and was due to be laid to rest on Friday had to be put back three days. Access to nursing homes proved impossible meaning undertakers and hospitals across the district struggled to meet deadlines. Cllr Larry O'Brien said, on Sunday, that a full clearing operation was in place for a third day throughout the district, with access gained to most areas. The primary and regional roads were passable by Sunday afternoon as council workers and locals aimed to connect villages to main roads. Rising temperature assisted the hard workers on the ground as the thaw lead to slushy conditions across the district.

New Ross town was clear and accessible as a combination of a citizen's army including members of Geraldine O'Hanrahan GAA Club and residents cleared entrances to many estates.

ESB crews had to be helicoptered into Ballycullane on Sunday to fix the power line, while a water tanker dispensed water from Ramsgrange Church to hundreds of people, which later had to be boiled once they returned home.

On Monday morning Bealistown 38kVa substation near Foulksmills was still out affecting approximately 3,000 or 4,000 customer but power was restored to all customers later in the day.

Cllr Michael Whelan said yesterday (Monday) that water engineers had to flush the whole system in Taylorstown on Monday morning, with water due to return to homes last night and today. Cllr Michael Sheehan hailed the 'citizen's army' of volunteers and council and emergency workers around New Ross for getting roads and estates cleared and for caring for elderly people within the community. Describing the response as the town and district's finest hour, Cllr Sheehan said: 'The community was brilliant. Everyone rallied to the cause.' Builder Johann Hoff volunteered his and some of his crews services and loaders to clear snow in estates where the council had not yet reached. The JFK Memorial Park & Arboretum including Slieve Coillte was closed throughout and will remain closed until further notice whilst high drifts of snow are cleared from walks, car park and paths. The arboretum is due to reopen later this week. The events scheduled for National Tree Week have been rescheduled to Monday next - a Wellness Walk and Friday, March 16 - The Beauty of Conifers talk.

On Monday at around lunchtime New Ross Municipal Cathaoirleach Cllr Willie Fitzharris said: 'There is no area inaccessible in the district at this stage, thanks to the hard work of our operatives, local volunteer and community involvement. All outdoor staff are out relieving melt water from roads to minimise flooding. '

There were scenes of unbridled joy across the town during 'snow days' last week, anywhere with a hill as children and adults slid down slopes and had fun snowball fights, making the most of the fresh powdery snow.

Erica Whitty snowboarded her way down the High Hill in style. The skis were out over at the Brandon House Hotel where people - wrapped up in all the ski gear - got thrills meandering down the hill. Members of the area's Polish community seemed particulalry adept at taking on the 'slopes'.

New Ross Standard