Recovery begins in aftermath of Storm Emma

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Recovery begins in aftermath of Storm Emma thumbnailThis beautiful, atmospheric photograph of Monahincha outside Roscrea during last week's Storm Emma was captured by our reporter Darren Keegan. MT10780DK

AS Offaly and Tipperary count the cost of being savaged by the "Beast from the East" and battered by Storm Emma, local services, schools and businesses worked feverishly to get back to normal in their aftermath this week.
On Wednesday last, both counties woke up to a blanket of snow as the much hyped cold front, the "Beast from the East", finally arrived and over the coming days, heavy snow fell and icy conditions prevailed, leading to the closure of local schools and treacherous driving conditions. Widespread disruption ensued as both counties ground to a halt as a status red weather warning came into effect on Thursday as Storm Emma swept through and collided with the Siberian cold front, adding the complication of strong winds and gales of up to 100km/h in many areas. With blizzard-like conditions of up to 30cm to 40cm of snow, extreme temperatures of -10 degrees in some places, zero visibility, extensive business closures and advice to remain indoors generated an almost lock down state in both counties until late Friday evening.
While the worst of the storm had passed by Saturday, an orange weather alert remained in place in many parts as hazardous conditions persisted with a risk of localised flooding due to heavy rain and thawing snow. While the thaw improved road conditions, caution was still advised for motorists as local authorities and emergency services got to grips with the reality on the ground that included 6ft snow drifts in some parts of Offaly and Tipperary. Clearing of primary routes soon began as crews attempted to get roads open to traffic. They then moved onto secondary and regional routes along with clearing many of the towns' footpaths. The worst affected areas in the two counties were then tackled while local businesses and schools grappled with re-opening on Monday last.
As news began to filter through of some exemplary feats by local emergency services and the civil defence, including bringing patients to hospital, delivering meals to the elderly and many more extraordinary acts of neighbourliness in our local communities, the Tribune spoke with representatives from Offaly and Tipperary County Councils and the local fire services to find out how they were dealing with the aftermath of this monumental weather event.
Clive Duke, Senior Assistant Chief Officer with Offaly Fire and Rescue Service, said the fire service had crews on stand by in each of the fire stations from 3pm on Thursday until 6pm on Friday with a minimum of six crew members in each station. During the status red weather warning, they dealt with a number of chimney fires and a house fire in Banagher as well as aiding a number of ambulances, who became impeded by the severe weather. Helped by the Civil Defence, the local fire services provided 70 transfers to hospital. Unfortunately, Mr Duke noted there was one incident involving an electric pole on fire outside Geashill, that the fire service was unable to attend because they couldn't get through the blizzard conditions during the status red warning.
Once the red weather alert was lifted, the fire services undertook a recce in each town to ensure the crew members could get home safely and return if required. Concluding, Mr Duke said without "a shadow of a doubt" the fact people heeded warnings to stay indoor helped the fire services immensely.
Elsewhere, Sean Murray, Director of Services, Offaly County Council pointed out their crews were out gritting and ploughing from early last week right through until lunchtime on Thursday when the local authority announced it would cease operations. Crews, according to Mr Murray, then resumed gritting and ploughing operations on Friday morning with all the primary, national, secondary and regional roads cleared and with 1,643km of local roads in the county, "up to 85% to 90% " of these roads were cleared at the time of going to print on Tuesday (March 6).
Offaly County Council had over 60 men rostered over a 24 hour period for over a week and Mr Murray said they have been working "flat out" the whole time. "It's an enormous credit to them because they have done a huge amount of work," he added. He thanked the area engineers, the general services supervisors, the drivers and the men on the ground for "doing so very well" as well as the head office staff, senior engineers, IT and corporate services, who all worked together to "ensure the message was going out all the time". He also extended a huge thank you to the HSE and an Garda Siochana, who he described as their "eyes and ears on the ground when we didn't have them" and this helped to focus the council's endeavours. The Civil Defence and the emergency services were also a huge credit to the county in "dealing with particular emergency cases as they arose", according to the director of services.
Having said all that, Mr Murray pointed out "without the very real co-operation of the public, we would have very real problems. But, we had that co-operation and people stayed largely off the roads, which enables the council to do the work they had to do," he added.
Going forward, the director of services said they will monitor the condition of the roads as a consequence of this weather event. "In saying that, we have come through a once in a generation event and we have come through it largely unscathed. If there has been some damage to the roads, and I am sure there has been, it will be dealt with in due course," he said. He then took the opportunity to thank all the local media, print, broadcast and social media who helped in "getting the message out there". Concluding, Mr Murray had one final message to motorists. "The roads may be problematic in places. So please drive slowly. Don't assume they are all perfect."
Looking towards neighbouring Tipperary, Marcus O'Connor, Director of Services Roads, Health & Safety, said before the status red weather warning came into effect, the county council salted approximately 1,000 km of road in preparation beforehand. Then on Saturday morning, it all began again as earlier as possible with crews beginning to clear roads where they could. However, Mr O'Connor admitted their efforts were hampered for most of Saturday due to the continued inclement weather. "For most of Saturday, we made very little progress because it [the snow] was still coming down so heavy that as we were clearing sections, like we drove from national roads such as from Clonmel up to Cahir or from Nenagh back to Birr, by the time we turned around again, it was as bad again."
The council had 14 ploughs out in total working to clear the routes, both ploughing and salting. "The national roads, we had them open but they were barely passable and we still didn't want people driving them," he pointed out. Mr O'Connor noted, for example, difficulties being experienced at Drought's garage, along the Templemore Road, outside Roscrea, where there was about 6ft to 8ft of snow. "We tried to get in but our snow plough just couldn't. That road was blocked and we had to get diggers in there to clear it out," he commented.
By Saturday evening, crews had, however, all the national roads cleared and then on Sunday, they moved into the towns where the outdoor crews cleared footpaths. From there, the council then concentrated their efforts on "lot of the upland areas". Noting areas like Gortagarry, Mr O'Connor said it was "bit like digging the channel tunnel when the crew from Offaly met the crew coming in from Tipperary" on Monday last. There were also other problem areas surrounding the Devil's Bit, which was described as "particularly problematic" for crews.
However, the director of services was "happy enough" when the Tribune spoke to him on Tuesday that they had most areas "cleared at the moment". "We are saying today [Tuesday, March 6] that we hope to have all the snow wiped out. However, if people know of anyone still stuck, please contact Tipperary County Council and let them know and we will try and get them out."
Looking to the coming few weeks, Mr O'Connor voiced some concerns about the conditions of the roads after all the snowfall. "We already had an issue with a lot of potholes anyway because of constant underfunding of roads. We thought because we had a good dry spell before this, that we had made some good progress on it. But, it will all be wrecked again," he said, agreeing it will be an issue for Tipperary County Council to examine over the coming weeks.


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