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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 19 November, 2017
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'It was like driving through a war zone': Cork picking up the pieces after Storm Ophelia

City council staff are working round the clock to try to clear debris from roads and repair the damage from yesterday’s storm.

HEUSTON STATION IS relatively empty at 6.30 in the morning. The 7am train to Cork is on time and heading from platform five, according to the departures board.

When I try to board the train on platform five, an Irish Rail worker stops me.

“The train is actually going from platform two,” he says. “Sorry about that. It always goes from platform five. But this is unprecedented.”

This is not the first time someone says the word unprecedented, in a day where I get to see how Cork was one of the counties hit hardest by Storm Ophelia.

When the train is at a standstill for the guts of half an hour at Charleville, the driver comes over the intercom and says simply: “Sorry for the delay, it’s because of Storm Ophelia.”

Counting the cost

Ophelia hit Cork hard.

Over 20 major roads in Cork were still closed this morning as people travelled to work around the county. ESB’s Powercheck showed numerous clusters of areas without power, with no estimate on when it would be returned.

Trees were still down and blocking roads all over the city, as dozens of city council crews worked round the clock to prioritise and remove debris from the roads.

esb powercheck The solitary dots are single faults. The crosses mean multiple in the same area. Source: ESB Powercheck

“There’s some very serious large scale damage, and an awful lot more small scale damage done,” Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told TheJournal.ie.

Wind speeds reached over 120kph in this part of Cork yesterday, but it was a bright, sunny day in Douglas today. However the after effects of Storm Ophelia were still visible.

Efforts are already underway to fix the roof at the hall in the Douglas school, with dramatic footage shared on social media showing the roof flying off in the fierce winds.

With no pupils in schools across the country for a second day, workers were busy trying to shift the wreckage on the school grounds.

Down the road in the (re-opened) local Tesco, the community was still reeling from yesterday’s storm.

“We were genuinely scared,” one woman said, who was with her two young children. “The wind started battering the windows and I thought it was going to cave in. And then we lost the power. We don’t know how long it’ll be gone for.”

An elderly woman said that she had heard the warning about the storm on Sunday evening.

“I wasn’t able to go the shops,” she said. “But I went out my back garden at one stage, and I can say I never felt wind like it. Unprecedented they called it. They were right.”

A taxi driver tells me he braved the elements and went out to work at 6am.

“It was just incredible,” he said. “The winds were just crazy. I only went out for a few hours. I knew when I started seeing debris on the roads it was time to come home.

I went out again after it cleared at around 7pm. By then, with so much after falling on the roads, it was like driving through a war zone.

A worker in a café closer to the city centre said: “It was unbelievable. The house across from me – the roof fell off.

The roads were littered. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was unprecedented. I stepped out for a minute from the café and thought I heard thunder, and sure I was fighting them all to get back in first.

About 15 minutes up the road from Douglas, over a dozen workers were busying themselves at Turner’s Cross stadium, with Cork City due to play a pivotal football game with Derry City this evening.

Yesterday, the storm blew one of the stands apart. The game was given the all-clear to be played but, at around 1.30pm today, the debris was far from cleared.

One of the worst affected roads was on Centre Park Road, on the south side of the city.

“Here, around 20% of all the fallen trees in Cork city fell,” Deputy Lord Mayor Fergal Dennehy tells TheJournal.ie.

Just after midday today, some of the roughly 30 trees that fell had been cleared, but there were still a significant number blocking the road.

IMG_4182 Deputy Lord Mayor Fergal Dennehy along a line of at least a dozen fallen trees blocking the road. Source: Sean Murray/TheJournal.ie

Some the trees here were decades old, with strong roots, but were easily overturned by Ophelia.

IMG_4184 Source: Sean Murray/TheJournal.ie

This was one example of how the city was affected. One of the workers helping to clear the debris said that it was the third place he’d been to do the same job since 6am this morning.

“We’ve been prioritising,” he said. “It’s all about doing our bit. Get the place back up and running.”

Clean up efforts

Back in Deputy Lord Mayor Dennehy’s office, he outlined how the city responded and what is now being done to undo the damage caused by Ophelia.

He told TheJournal.ie: “It’s all about clean up now. We have around 150 trees that have fallen and are blocking roads – that we know of.

Our biggest fear is that some buildings may have sustained structural damage that hasn’t shown yet, and will only become apparent in the next few days. The best thing though is that we didn’t have a casualty or a fatality.

Having faced crises such as flooding in recent years, Sinn Féin’s Ó Laoghaire said the city was well prepared for Ophelia.

“In terms of the damage done to property, it’s not as bad as recent floods,” he said. “We’ve had people out round the clock working on this and credit to them, the council and all the emergency services.”

Dennehy said that the multi-agency crisis management team clicked into gear at the weekend and began monitoring the situation at an early stage.

He said: “Our engineers determined that it was highly likely we wouldn’t flood, so then it was all about following the storm hour by hour.

We now have about a week’s worth of clean up now, and we have 300 staff on that. They started at 5pm yesterday, as soon as the storm had passed. We reacted only to life or death situations yesterday, because we were putting our own staff at risk. On behalf of the Lord Mayor’s office, I want to thank all the council staff and the emergency services for their stellar work.

Dennehy added that the crisis team payed so much attention to the storm’s progress because hadn’t seen the like of Ophelia before. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say next.

“This was a storm that wasn’t usual,” he said. “It wasn’t following normal path lines. Our biggest fear from the storm was that it was so unprecedented, we didn’t know how it would go.”

The damage caused to the city and county will almost certainly run into the millions of euro. There is a lot of work to be done certainly.

But with Cork City on course to win Irish football’s premier division to a packed crowd this evening, people back to work, back out and about on the streets on a sunny day, a resilient Cork was bouncing back just a day after it got hit with the worst storm in 50 years. Unprecedented.

Read: 216,000 without power, over 30,000 without phone and broadband as Ireland faces Ophelia aftermath

Read: It could become a criminal offence to recklessly endanger emergency workers during a status red warning

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