Ophelia: Islanders off Cork warn of crisis as power cut to storm gates

Residents of one of the country’s largest inhabited islands have warned of an emerging crisis after power cuts effectively crippled their multi-million euro harbour storm gates.

Islanders on Cape Clear, off Cork, pleaded with authorities to restore power quickly, as they also struggled to cope with water outages and expressed concerns about food shortages.

The island, eight miles off Cork and three miles from Fastnet Rock, where gusts of 103-knots (190km/h) were recorded on Monday, bore the brunt of Ophelia’s ferocity as it built from around 9am and peaked at 11am.

A long-time resident, Pádraig C Ó Drisceoill said while the January 5, 2014, storm with 130km/h winds and a 58ft swell caused more structural damage, the island was still badly hit.

South Harbour took a direct hit, with massive waves crashing over the roof of an island hostel and flooding the building between 11am and 12noon.

A retaining wall near the harbour was smashed, a harbour side road was torn up, slates were ripped from roofs and debris was flung several hundred yards inshore.

“It was frightening alright but what escaped us from a wipeout, what saved the island, was the fact that the tides were low and the winds were southerly,” Mr Ó Drisceoill said.

The island lost its power supply from Turk Head, knocking out water pumps and hitting supplies.

The power outage also hit the North Harbour storm gates which were installed in 2015 to protect the harbour in the wake of devastating Storm Darwin, a year earlier.

Mr Ó Drisceoill said locals pleaded with the Department of Marine at the time to include a back-up generator but the request was ignored.

Local fishermen look out from the Glen Pier, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, as Storm Ophelia made her arrival felt, whipping up the wild Atlantic seas. Picture: Stephen Kelleghan

He said they had to use a small generator yesterday to open the gates, but that it was taking a long time to open each gate, one by one.

“People need to be able to get food from SuperValu in Skibbereen. This is a crisis situation,” he said.

“Anything we got here on the island, we had to fight for. Rural Ireland is being destroyed. This can’t go on.

“We appreciate the investment in the storm gates, in fairness to Simon Coveney, but they (the authorities) are not listening to us.”

Shane Ó Drisceoill, skipper of the island ferry Dún an Óir, operated the first service in days off the island to Baltimore at 4pm yesterday and returned at 5.30pm with basic food supplies for the island shop.

“Lots of people stocked up on Saturday but I collected basic supplies, like bread and milk, for the island shop last night,” he said.

But he said using a small generator to open the storm gates was “far from ideal”.

“It takes a while to set it up, and takes half an hour for each gate to open.

“It’s far from ideal. It was calm yesterday but you couldn’t do it in a big swell.”

He said the connections have been provided for the installation of a heavy-duty back-up generator which has yet to be installed.

He hopes that talks will take place over the coming weeks with the relevant authorities to ensure that a powerful enough back-up power sources is installed.

On Bere Island, meanwhile, where several trees were knocked, residents at the eastern side were still without power last night.

Helen Riddell, who works with the Bere Island Project, said islanders were prepared for the worst but escaped major structural damage.

The island lost power at 9am on Monday but it was restored to the western end by 2pm .

She said mobile phone coverage is intermittent, landlines are working, and a ferry service to Castletownbere is operating.

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