Long-suffering ESB staff are among those without power

 ESB network personnel working at Burkes Hill, Mayfield, Cork. Picture: Denis Scannell

REPAIR WORK

ESB technical crews were out repairing the damage from the latest storm, but many of them returned from work to find their own homes still in darkness.

Jim Hernan, ESB area manager for Cork, said the technicians were working in often hazardous conditions as they strive to bring light and heat back to huge swathes of the country hammered by hurricane force winds.

“A typical working day begins at first light, with a briefing on public safety and their own safety — that would have been at 6.30am despite having worked up to 10 and 11 last [Wednesday] night,” said Mr Hernan. “Most went home [on Wednesday] to homes without power.

“Then they would be set to work within 45 minutes and dispersed across the different locations. They will work right up until well past dark, up to 10pm. That will be repeated over the coming days.”

Counties Kerry, Clare, Cork, and Kilkenny were among the worst affected, and this pattern has resulted in a kind of southward migration among ESB technicians.

Starting yesterday morning, some 190,000 people were without power. By lunchtime, that figure had been reduced to 168,000, but there are 6,000 separate outages that needed to be addressed.

With the southern half of the country worst affected, the outages have meant crews from the northern half of the country, and from the North, dropping their scheduled work and trekking to where the need is greatest.

Some 2,000 ESB network technicians are on the job, alongside their colleagues from the North and some contractors.

According to Mr Hernan, the conditions make the tricky task of restoring power even more difficult.

“The kind of hazards we are facing, a lot of them are exactly the same as those faced by members of the public,” he said. “Road travel is hazardous, especially on back roads and off road, with trees down, snow and ice.

“One crew this morning working in Macroom had hail and snow falling on them.

“In some cases, the fault is at a ‘switch’ location and new fuses can be put in, whereas in other areas power lines may have clashed.

“The first priority today is emergency situations where wires are down, where there is a danger to the public.”

That emergency work would have occupied many of the crews yesterday, before work in the second half of the day focused on repairing and restoring “backbone lines”, and then, in due course, what the crews call “spur lines”. Referring to the backbone lines, Mr Hernan said: “That’s where we get back most customers quickest.”

There is a prioritisation of populated area, but only after the more obvious dangerous situations have been dealt with.

“We do not want anyone playing the hero,” said Mr Hernan. “If there are networks down, don’t play with them. Also, we do not want people ringing in unless there is significant damage to report. We do know what areas are out.”

He said the number of outages was a “fluid situation” and that there would be a “significant number” of people who will still be without power today.

And that may include some of the those working on the power lines.

Met warning

* Less than 48 hours after the country was buffeted by some of the worst winds ever experienced, Met Éireann has warned gusts of up to 110km/h for parts of Munster and Leinster today. And almost the whole country will receive between 30-45mm of rain over the next 24 hours.

Connacht, Ulster and north Leinster are also expected to have 30mm of snow before being hit by the band of rain spreading from the south.

It is to be a cold day with afternoon temperatures ranging from about 2C-3C in the north to 7C-8C in southern areas.

More severe gusts are expected overnight and into tomorrow morning. However, they will gradually ease off to leave a cold, showery day. The rain is expected to become more prolonged as the day goes on.

Sunday is predicted to be cold, bright and frosty though rain will spread from the west before evening.

Monday is expected to be cold with scattered outbreaks of rain while Tuesday is predicted to be cold, dry and bright.

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