Storm Ophelia - Warnings helped keep people safe

The ferocity of Storm Ophelia was such as to subdue even the most hardened and to remind all of us of the awesome power of nature. 

It was storm by name but hurricane by nature, with winds approaching 130km/h as it roared in over the Atlantic, made landfall in West Kerry and tracked its way east and northwards.

Almost nothing and no one was spared its sweep as the country, north and south, became united in trauma, fear, and anxiety.

The response of the emergency services was, as always, exemplary. Less so, at least initially, was that of government agencies and national institutions.

Despite repeated warnings by Met Éireann that Ophelia was the real deal and on its way, it was not until the last few hours before the storm’s landfall that government buildings, universities, schools, and transport services announced they would close.

That may have delayed commercial businesses like banks and department stores in deciding not to open or to shut their doors early, resulting in thousands of people going to work without knowing if they would be able to make it home.

However, after that hesitant start, the national emergency co-ordination group kicked into gear, with the Taoiseach
declaring a national emergency and warning people to stay indoors for their own safety and that of emergency teams.

Most people took his advice and many government employees and those working for large companies were able to enjoy a day off without financial penalty.

Not so, however, those many thousands of farmers, small business owners, and contract workers who did not have that luxury and would have lost a day’s income as a result. Some could work from home, but not all.

We should also acknowledge the double losses endured by many in the fishing industry, with the storm robbing them of a day’s catch while also damaging their boats and gear, with longer-term consequences.

For many, Ophelia, was a reminder of recent extreme weather events like Storm Darwin in 2014. It was one in a series of nine storms between 2013 and 2014 which caused at least five fatalities and hundreds of millions of euro in
damage.

Ophelia also evoked a folk memory of Oíche na Gaoithe Móire — The Night of the Big Wind — that swept across Ireland from the afternoon of January 6, 1839, causing severe damage to property and hundreds of deaths.

It remains the worst storm in Irish recorded history, not just because of its ferocity but because 300 lives were lost on land and sea that night, and many injured died in the weeks that followed.

The Dublin Evening Post described how “every part of Ireland — every field, every town, every village have felt [the storm’s] dire effects, from Galway to Dublin — from the Giant’s Causeway to Valentia”.

Storm Ophelia was not without its tragedy but, thanks to the courage of emergency crews, Met Eireann’s precise prediction, the use of social media as a means of alert, and the good sense of most people to remain indoors, it was not the calamity it could have been.


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