Severe pressure on health and water services as the clean-up continues

Severe pressure on health and water services are being tackled by staff nationwide as the massive clean-up continues in the aftermath of Storm Emma.

Severe pressure on health and water services as the clean-up continues

People have been advised to stay away from health services unless it is an emergency and water will this week be restricted possibly in over 1m premises.

Hundreds of patients have yet to be discharged from hospitals and accidents, including trips and falls, have contributed to overcrowding at emergency units.

Thousands of homes have been left without water while restrictions on usage will be applied across Dublin with over 60m more litres than normal in demand because of leaks and burst pipes.

The scale of the clean-up and effort by emergency services was outlined yesterday, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated that fatalities could still emerge in the aftermath of the unprecedented snow storm.

Andrew and David O’Keeffe at Karol Winters farm, Winterheights, Taghmon, Co Wexford, where the snow brought down farm sheds. Picture: Patrick Browne
Andrew and David O’Keeffe at Karol Winters farm, Winterheights, Taghmon, Co Wexford, where the snow brought down farm sheds. Picture: Patrick Browne

Temperatures were set to fall below freezing again overnight in parts of Wexford and Wicklow among areas in the East.

Asked yesterday about his weekend remarks that dead people might be found in homes, Mr Varadkar said: “That is my fear, I didn’t intend to cause any alarm.”

He said it was also possible road deaths may have been caused because of the conditions, the “worst snow storm in 35 years”.

The full cost of the storm would not be known for weeks, Mr Varadkar added. The Cabinet will today consider distributing funds for those affected through the Red Cross.

The National Emergency Coordination Group (NECG) met again yesterday and stressed that the biggest problems in the clean-up after the snow storm was “huge pressures” on water and health services in the coming days.

Over 40,000 HSE appointments cancelled last Thursday and Friday must be rescheduled.

Over 1,000 ambulance calls were also responded to in recent days and many patients have not been able to return home after treatment. All non-urgent surgery was cancelled in hospitals yesterday, it was announced.

The HSE confirmed that difficulties for services, particularly in hospitals, would continue for up to two weeks. Doctors representatives have called for a state of emergency to be announced.

Health Minister Simon Harris said it would be a challenging week ahead for services. He also called on people to only use services for emergencies.

Up to 700 discharges from hospitals have been delayed and overcrowding saw 664 patients on trolleys yesterday waiting for beds, the worst being Cork University with 63 patients waiting.

Elsewhere, over 10,000 homes, businesses and farms were without water yesterday after the storm.

Davy Leane, sheep farmer, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Co Kerry, had brought his ewes to lower ground ahead of Storm Emma. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan
Davy Leane, sheep farmer, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Co Kerry, had brought his ewes to lower ground ahead of Storm Emma. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Water restrictions for 120,000 more premises are also in place Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, and Waterford among places.

Homes in the Dublin region and some surrounding counties saw their water restricted overnight and will still experience pressure falls in the coming days, as repairs are under way.

Pressure will be restricted between the hours of 7pm and 7am following huge spikes in demand and this could affect over a million premises.

Overall, some 60m litres in water is being demanded more than a normal day. Irish Water is trying to fix leaks in Athlone, east Meath, parts of Kerry and Longford.

The NECG also said that nearly all homes that lost electricity were reconnected and most bus services were operating again.

Meanwhile, Met Eireann has revealed where the biggest snow falls were during the storm. Ballymount in West Wicklow was worst hit, with a record 57cm of snow, followed by Blessington with 45cm, Naas with 47cm while Sherkin Island, West Cork, which rarely sees snow, got 7cm.

Sarah from the Order of Malta Blackrock Unit who lives in Ballyfolan, Co Wicklow. There is no access to their area.
Sarah from the Order of Malta Blackrock Unit who lives in Ballyfolan, Co Wicklow. There is no access to their area.

Elsewhere, gardaí have launched two separate inquiries after the deaths of men in Carlow and Cork.

In Cork, the body of a man was discovered on the Blackrock Road in Cork on Sunday at approximately 10am. It is understood that he was homeless and had availed of homeless services over the weekend. His body was removed to Cork University Hospital where an autopsy will be carried out. Gardaí say the matter is being treated at a sudden death.

In Carlow, gardaí are investigating the death of a man in his 80s. He was taken to St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny by ambulance in the early hours of Sunday where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy was due to take place yesterday.

Appeals to conserve water as rationing introduced in Dublin

Conall Ó Fátharta

Water rationing has been introduced across Dublin as burst pipes during the cold snap have led to major shortages.

Irish Water said that more than 60m litres of water has gone from the system due to leaks from burst pipes and taps left running overnight.

Water pressure restrictions were put in place for the greater Dublin area and parts of Wicklow, Kildare and Meath from 7pm yesterday until 7am today to allow reservoirs to replenish.

Irish Water has appealed to customers across the country to conserve water.

The utility said that increasing demand along with weather-related bursts and leaks have resulted in water treatment plants running at capacity. This could lead to even more outages and restrictions in the coming week.

In all, just over 33,500 people are without water and more than 100,000 have restricted supply due to low levels in reservoirs.

Those without water include almost 2,000 in Cork, 17,500 in Wexford, 12,250 in Tipperary, and 2,000 in Limerick.

Those on restricted supply include 13,000 people in Cork, 14,000 in Galway, 7,700 in Kerry, 1,800 in Laois, 16,500 in Leitrim, 27,000 in Longford, 700 in Mayo, 12,000 in Meath, 2,000 in Waterford, and 9,500 in Westmeath.

Almost 3,000 homes are on storm-related boil water notices.

The majority of those affected are in Aughrim in Wicklow and the remainder are on small schemes in Waterford.

Irish Water said other areas, particularly smaller drinking water schemes, may also experience some lower pressure due to high demand, which is why it is so important that people conserve water wherever possible.

The utility is working as part of the National Emergency Committee (NEC) and in partnership with local authorities around the country to minimise the risk to customers and to restore full supply.

In Cork, a number of areas are still experiencing disruptions to their water supply.

There are disruptions in Youghal, Crookhaven, Freemount and Roberts Cove.

Meanwhile, barriers were erected on flood relief schemes in Mallow and Fermoy as a precautionary measure.

Levels in the River Blackwater and River Bandon remain stable.

However, the council is monitoring this situation and has asked members of the public and farming community to stay away from rivers and watercourses for the coming days as the thaw continues.

Education System: Hundreds of school transport services did not operate

Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

Large snow drifts on the road at St John’s National School, South Roscommon. Thanks to Claire Kelly for the impressive picture.
Large snow drifts on the road at St John’s National School, South Roscommon. Thanks to Claire Kelly for the impressive picture.

Hundreds of school transport services did not operate yesterday because of road conditions or closures.

While most of Ireland’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools were open yesterday, after missing at least two days of classes last week, some were unable to open due to continuing road difficulties.

In some cases, storm damage or snow drifts still piled up on school grounds meant parents were notified to keep children at home.

Bus Éireann said that around 10% of school transport services did not operate yesterday morning, as schools were closed or road conditions made routes unfit to travel.

The company carries more than 116,000 young people on over 6,000 routes every day, servicing more than 3,000 schools. It said a significant number of these routes are on minor roads.

“All decisions pertaining to the operation of a service are taken with the safety of children and staff being of paramount importance,” said a spokesperson.

Based on transport routes affected, the worst-affected regions were in the East and South-East, but many schools in the Midlands and south-coast counties also remained closed.

All the country’s schools have now lost at least four days to severe weather, as last Thursday’s and Friday’s closures follow directions to close during and immediately after Storm Ophelia last October.

Department of Education guidelines allow certain flexibility around making up lost time due to unforeseen circumstances like these.

Schools are required to deliver the minimum 183 and 165 days a year for primary and second-level, respectively. However, many still have “discretionary days” left if they opened early at the end of summer holidays.

There are also options to postpone or cancel non-curricular trips or activities, or to reduce the days that State exam students can stay home to study in the lead-up to the Junior and Leaving Certificate exams.

Third-level colleges re-opened yesterday but some relaxed rules on non-attendance or postponed scheduled assessments.

Health crisis: 664 on trolleys as nurses seek declaration of emergency

Joe Leogue

As its latest figures show more than 660 people were on trolleys yesterday morning, the organisation representing the country’s nurses and midwives has called on the HSE to declare an emergency period in the public health service in the aftermath of the weekend’s adverse weather conditions.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) made the call as the HSE’s national director for emergency response called on the public to be patient with the health service which will take time to return to normal.

The INMO said it is concerned that extended period of severe weather will have created a delay to discharges and a backlog of patients scheduled for admission for elective procedures.

Its trolley watch figures showed there were 664 patients on trolleys or on wards, waiting for admission to a bed yesterday.

Cork University Hospital was the worst affected, with 63 patients waiting.

The INMO further warned that frontline staff who worked extended hours in recent days would need rest periods and it said hospitals were already overcrowded before the bad weather hit.

The INMO’s records show the trolley count for February 2018 was 19% higher than this time last year with 10,772 patients waiting on trolleys for an in-patient bed.

“The next two weeks must be afforded emergency status,” said INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha.

“This means extraordinary measures should be put in place to focus on recovering from this adverse weather event, ensuring prioritisation of emergency care. This will require all non-urgent and routine cases to be cancelled during this period.”

Damien McCallion, the HSE’s national director of emergency response, told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme it will be another week and a half before cancelled procedures from last week are rescheduled.

“Over the next 10 days we’ll focus on this recovery period. We would intend to start looking at the rescheduling commencing the week after next,” said Mr McCallion.

“So we would just ask people to be patient with us. That will be when the hospitals will start to make decisions.”

He said there are 13,000 outpatient procedures carried out across the country across any given day, meaning there are some 26,000 that will need to be rescheduled based on closures last Thursday and Friday alone.

While Ms Ní Sheaghdha welcomed the cancellation of routine elective cases yesterday, she said more measures are required to tackle the mounting issue.

“Unfortunately for the already overburdened health service [the cancellations] must be extended. In this crisis, all measures to properly resource and staff the health service must be explored and the assistance of services in the private acute hospitals must also be sought,” she said.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the work carried out by healthcare staff in the past week showed a “true example of selflessness and pride in the job they do every day”.

“This is to be commended and the INMO now requires the employer to ensure practical, appropriate plans are in place to cope with the aftermath of this crisis,” said Ms Ní Sheaghdha.

The Irish Examiner asked the Department of Health if it would declare an emergency period in line with the INMO’s request. It said such a decision is a matter for the HSE.

The HSE had not replied to this newspaper at time of publication.

Holiday woes: Passengers stranded in Lanzarote due home

Anne Lucey

A planeload of people from the South-West left stranded on the Canary Island of Lanzarote since Saturday were due back in Ireland last night.

Denis O’Connor, from Ballyhea, Dingle, said cancer patients and children were among those left stranded without any information and with nowhere to go on Saturday night after being told their Aer Lingus E1877 flight to Cork had to land on nearby Fuerteventura because of winds, and would not be taking off again due to crew flying time constraints.

They had been queuing for their 6pm flight since early afternoon and had been asked to change departure gates a number of times. At 11pm those who had apartments were told to leave, but around 60 other people had nowhere to go.

“We were told to leave the terminal and re-book and get on another flight. But the only flights available were to Moscow. Moscow!” said Mr O’Connor.

He and the others refused to leave and at 1.30am they were given 10 blankets between them. They were also given a meal voucher for €15.

At 6am on Sunday, he rang his local TD, Michael Healy-Rae. “And he answered straight away and he rang Shane Ross.”

By 9.30am, Mr Healy-Rae was able to tell him Mr Ross had intervened and Aer Lingus would be chartering a Boeing 767 at 1.30pm to bring them back to Dublin and then they would be bussed to Cork.

However, there was no local information and Aer Lingus handlers on the ground threatened to call security to force them to leave the terminal. They rang Mr Healy-Rae again. A few hours later, four senior people approached them and said: “Your prime minister is very angry!” and they were given vouchers for hotel accommodation and details of their flights home.

“Everyone understands that flights can be delayed and what not, but it’s how you are treated then that’s important,” said Mr Healy-Rae. “And these people were badly treated. The subcontractors for Aer Lingus didn’t tell them anything. All they did was tell them they were going to get security to get them out of departures.”

Aer Lingus has since apologised.

“The last number of days have seen the most significant disruption to Irish aviation since the ash cloud disruption in 2010. Aer Lingus is endeavouring to do everything possible to minimise inconvenience to our guests and get them to their destinations.”

Cancellations: Fliers unaware of rights

Joe Leogue

The public is largely unaware of its entitlements when flights are cancelled or delayed due to weather, a solicitor who specialises in travel law has warned.

Johnny Farrell of Johnny Farrell Solicitors and said air travellers should be aware that airlines have obligations in circumstances such as last weekend’s disruption caused by Storm Emma.

“The public has little or no knowledge of their rights when they are in cancellation situations,” said Mr Farrell.

“In my experience, airlines are not providing their customers with information in relation to these rights.”

Mr Farrell said airlines have an obligation to provide food and refreshments that are reasonable with respect to the amount of time passengers are delayed.

“If it is a delay of over three hours they should provide water and a snack bar, but obviously if that delay goes over lunchtime they should provide lunch. Staff on the ground may argue, but courts have upheld this in the past,” he said.

He said overnight delays should see hotel accommodation laid on, regardless of the cause of the delay.

He advised that while under European regulations passengers are usually entitled to compensation of between €250 and €600 in cases where flights are delayed or cancelled, this does not apply if the cancellation is due to unsafe flying conditions due to weather.

He said that the chaos seen in airports over the past few days may have had a knock-on effect on flights but that, with the red weather warning lifted, it no longer provides cover for airlines to dismiss claims for delayed or cancelled flights.

“The value we provide in undertaking these claims on behalf of delayed passengers is that we know how to deal with the airlines and take the stress out of the situation for them,” said Mr Farrell.

“We recently undertook cases for over 30 delayed passengers on the same Aer Lingus flight where we were able to agree their compensation with the airline within a week of them disembarking the flight.”

Weather to cost businesses hundreds of millions

Dan Buckley

Workers help each other cross the snow in City West, Dublin, yesterday. Pic: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Workers help each other cross the snow in City West, Dublin, yesterday. Pic: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Last week’s severe weather is set to cost Irish businesses hundreds of millions of euro in lost trade, staff costs, and clean-up operations.

According to the Small Firms Association (SFA), the combination of prolonged snowfall and Storm Emma caused massive disruption — a view echoed by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme).

“Our members were better prepared this time as many were caught out in Storm Ophelia, said SFA director, Sven Spollen-Behrens.

“However, many of our members are hugely concerned about the loss of revenue and the additional pressure this puts on their businesses, especially those in the retail, hospitality, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

“With commercial activity either disrupted or businesses being forced to close for at least two and a half days, the trading losses are likely to be in the hundreds of millions.”

He said the event highlighted the vulnerability of Irish businesses in such circumstances: “We have a poor road and public transport infrastructure that is very vulnerable to bad weather. In addition, the insufficient broadband coverage outside of the bigger urban areas means that working from home in situations like this is not a realistic option for many.”

Lorraine Higgins, deputy chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, said different sectors experienced varying degrees of disruption: “The focus on grocery purchases meant that purchases in other sectors were postponed. Huge losses were incurred as a consequence of being closed for five days. It’s the loss of sales, employee costs and general clean up costs that they are facing now.”

Isme chief executive, Neil McDonnell, questioned the wisdom of declaring a nationwide red alert when parts of the North-West suffered very little disruption: “We need a more nuanced approach in the future if we experience more exceptional weather like this which seems likely, considering we already have had floods and a hurricane. We need to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve shutting the whole country down.”

Meanwhile, Lidl Ireland held a meeting yesterday with staff at the Fortunestown store which remainsshut after being attacked and looted during last Friday.

A spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that each of the 30 team members will be redeployed to other stores in the area. We will not have the criminal actions of others impact on the livelihood of our hard working team.”

She added: “On behalf of the store manager, Ruth, and her team we would like to thank everyone for their kind words in the aftermath of this incident. The team are genuinely blown away by the swell of support from, not just the community that they serve daily, but from right around the country.”

Farmers seek coordinated approach on milk backlog

Noel Baker

Dairy farmers have called on milk processors to become involved in a “coordinated approach” to help clear the backlog of milk built up by the effects of Storm Emma.

With the road network returning to normal, some farmers have still not had milk collected and others have lost some of what was previously gathered as lorries were unable to make regular collections.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president, Pat McCormack, said there needed to be a coordinated approach to ensure all milk is collected as soon as possible and called on milk processors to cooperate as much as possible.

He said with calving numbers ahead of last year, milk production levels are up and it is essential that farmers who milked their cows in difficult conditions suffer no loss due to delays in collections. Glanbia has made a commitment to paying 20c per litre for milk they were unable to collect, but Mr McCormack said this still left farmers down 15c a litre due to no fault of their own.

He welcomed the Government’s announcement on Saturday that farmers who removed snow-related hazards on public roads will not be liable for any claims arising out of the weather event. He also stressed the need for continued vigilance around safety and urged farmers not to take risks attempting to fix shed roofs or other structures.

“Obviously we’ve been asking people to just be extra safety conscious in these circumstances and to be really cautious and careful around damaged structures.

“We do think that it requires some statement from the relevant agencies and departments to the effect that in the event of inspections over the next period full account will be taken of the damage caused by the snowstorm and no penalties whatsoever will be imposed for damaged roofs, gutters, etc.”

He also paid tribute to council staff members and emergency response teams who had worked to help the farming and wider rural communities.

The Health and Safety Authority also issued advice and said if it is necessary to be in fields, farmers should wear footwear with good grips, wear a high-visibility jacket, and tell someone their estimated time of return. It also advised farmers to have a fully charged mobile phone and a torch, even if just going out to feed animals in sheds or to carry out milking, and said pathways to machinery and sheds should be cleared to reduce the risk of slips and falls.

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