Lives nearly claimed by Darwin's hurricane force winds

Tony Lyons was counting his lucky stars last night.

His decision to walk on the river side of Cork’s normally busy Pope’s Quay to avoid the risk of falling slates probably saved his life.

He was just feet away when storm force winds toppled a tree, which came crashing down on to two unoccupied cars, including his daughter’s silver Yaris which he had parked there moments earlier to run an errand.

“I was jumping over a puddle and was about four feet away when the tree came down. The car is a complete write-off, but that’s life,” the owner of Fernroyd House B&B near UCC said.

His was just one of dozens of lucky escape and near miss stories as Cork city and county was battered by hurricane force winds.

Tens of thousands of homes were without power while ESB Networks crews braved the severe weather to restore electricity.

Operations were suspended at Cork Airport for almost two hours after severe winds damaged part of the airside section of the terminal roof.

The gusts which peaked at up to 107km/h at the airfield — some of the strongest winds there in almost 25 years — also damaged several large gantry signs on the airport approach road.

Students at University College Cork’s (UCC) Brookfield accommodation complex had a narrow escape when a large tree fell, brushing against one of the buildings.

Cladding was torn from UCC’s Bio Science Building.

UCC later issued an emergency text advising all staff and students to remain indoors to avoid flying debris, and the historic Quad was closed to pedestrians.

A rare Chinese privet tree, one of the largest specimens of its kind in Ireland, was also blown down in the President’s Garden area.

Trees fell on homes in Shamrock Lawn, Douglas, and in Ballinure, Mahon, but there were no injuries.

A section of roof at Cork Constitution Rugby Club was blown away. Wooden panelling on the front of The Venue Bar in Ballintemple was ripped down.

Fota Wildlife Park closed and a huge TV mast was toppled in Crosshaven.

The Dublin-Cork motorway was closed at Fermoy after a lorry flipped on its side. No injuries were reported.

There were dozens of reports of downed trees blocking roads, particularly across West Cork, with council crews working frantically to clear them.

Council staff were also on standby in parts of Glanmire as the risk of flooding loomed.

The inbound section of the South City Link Road was closed for several hours after four trees fell, causing widespread disruption to traffic.

There was widespread disruption to public transport too with delays to intercity and commuter rail services in to and out of Cork’s Kent station, with debris on the lines affecting services between Mallow, Tralee, Cobh, and Midleton.

The storm forced the closure of two Cork schools.

Pupils of Scoil Iosaef Naofa primary school in Cobh were sent home at 9.15am after the fierce winds damaged a section of the school roof. Principal Tony Kenneally said the decision to close was taken to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.

The school is due to re-open this morning but its open-night tonight has been cancelled.

Four classrooms under the damaged roof will remain out of action pending repairs.

Students of Schull Community College in West Cork were also sent home yesterday morning after the school lost power.

Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh secondary school in Bishopstown also suffered storm damage when the roof of its sports hall to the rear of the main school building was punctured by flying debris.

The hall was not in use at the time.

Principal Michael Sexton said it wasn’t clear yet whether the debris had been blown from the roof of the main school building, or elsewhere.

Weather conditions prevented a full inspection of the main roof.

Chainsaw ban delayed work

By Sean O’Riordan

A fallen tree blocks the Clonakilty to Inchydoney Road, West Cork. Picture: Denis Scannell

Blocked roads could have been cleared faster if Cork County Council hadn’t banned its outdoor staff from using chainsaws to cut fallen trees.

The ban was imposed following the death of Michael O’Donovan. The married father of three, who worked for the local authority, died in November 2012 after a tree fell on to overhead wires and dragged down a telegraph pole, which struck him.

At the time the council issued a memo which stated: “All tree felling and use of chainsaws is suspended until further notice pending a review. This applies to any Cork County Council and town council employees and contractors engaged by these authorities.”

There was widespread condemnation of the policy last night as people watched council workers arrive, saw them cordon the area off and then announce they had to contact private contractors who were Health and safety-approved to carry out the work.

The contractors were so overstretched it could be several days before they can deal with the many hundreds, if not thousands of downed trees, and those teetering.

Cllr Tim Lombard said he had encountered many “frustrated council employees who wanted to remove trees, but were unable to do so because of the ban”. “I believe we are the only local authority in the country which isn’t allowing its staff to do this,” he said.

He said there seemed to be no prohibition on the public to remove the trees. A council spokesman said they were unable to allow their employees to use chainsaws due to health and safety concerns.

He said householders should also conserve water because many of their pumping station were not functioning due to power cuts.

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