News

District escapes wrath of ex-hurricane Ophelia

Thursday, 19 October 2017

STRABANE and much of the surrounding district escaped the worst of ex-hurricane Ophelia this week as many others continue to survey the damage caused by the strongest eastern Atlantic tropical storm ever recorded.

High winds battered the province for much of Monday evening but ultimately there was minimal physical damage locally.

There were several incidents of fallen trees and branches in areas of the town and Lifford. Over 70 homes in the border town were also left without electric.

In the main however, many breathed a collective sigh of relief as they emerged unscathed from the storm but a new one is on the horizon. However experts are not expecting it to pose as much danger as Ophelia.

The Republic of Ireland was worst affected with three people killed during the cyclone's rampage in what was the worst storm to hit the country in more than 50 years.

An amber storm weather warning across the locale did however result in a number of disruptions and an unprecedented decision by most businesses to shut early.

The town centre resembled a ghost town from early on Monday afternoon as shops and public services pulled the shutters early in anticpation of the forecasted weather.

As the wind picked up by mid-afternoon there was barely an outlet open. However, many of those who the Strabane Weekly News spoke to said they were happy to err on the side of caution while others said they did not expect to do much business.

 

This morning (Wednesday), primary and post-primary schools as well as further education colleges on both sides of the border will re-open following two-day closures.

Questions continue to be asked of the late notiofication on Sunday night that schools were to close on Monday.

Derek Barker, Permanent Secretary for the Education Department, said the decision to close for a second day had been taken "to avoid any potential risk to life for children and young people as well as staff.

Elsewhere, the Western Trust cancelled all outpatient appointments and routine treatments and day care services were closed before returning to normal yesterday (Tuesday).

There was also widespread disruption to council services with Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) closing its leisure, recycling and play areas.

Yesterday, the council confirmed that all its services and facilities had resumed as normal following early morning assessments for any potential damage.

Refuse collections have also resumed with efforts made yesterday to reach all areas which did not have their bins collected yesterday.

"We are advised anyone who has not had their bin collected to leave it at the kerbside. Anyone with any queries on this is asked to contact the council directly on 028 71253253," a spokesperson said.

She added that council, who had initiated its Emergency Preparedness Response for the storm, will continue to monitor the situation and remain in regular contact with the other multi-agencies as part of the recovery stage.

Thanking the public for their co-operation, the spokesperson added: "The health and safety of the public is a priority for the council and it remains committed to its joint collaborative approach with the multi-agencies when dealing with major issues and emergencies of this nature."

Sion Mills community worker, Andy Patton, said he believed the combined preparation across all agencies had helped ensure that the district escaped the wrath of Ophelia.

"We have been spared the real wrath of the storm," he said yesterday. "All the preparation was good and everyone listened to all the advice.

 

"There were trees down and some structural damage but (it was) limited. We were out and about a few times last night (Monday) to ensure all was well within the village, checking on large drains to see they were taking away any storm water.

"Thank you to all the emergency services and agencies who were on standby."

West Tyrone MLA., Declan McAleer has thanked all the local first responders who worked tirelessly to keep people safe from Ophelia's grip.

Our first responders risked life and limb in dangerous conditions to keep us safe. They undoubtedly have family members and loved ones who were concerned about their safety as they battled the storm, so it is important to recognise the impact on their families as well.

West Tyrone is a very rural constituency and huge credit must also go to home care workers who went out and battled the winds to ensure the most vulnerable were cared for," he said.

As with all major incidents there will be a review of operations and how the response was co-ordinated and delivered. It is important that lessons are learned including early decisions in regards to school closures plus an all-Ireland approach to emergency planning as weather doesnt recognise borders.

At the time of going to press yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), it was unclear if and how the region will be impacted by the next potential storm, namely 'Storm Brian'.

In the event of a spell of bad weather developing, the council has urged the public to be cautious and to take the appropriate steps to ensure they keep safe and secure their properties.

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