Belfast Telegraph

Full extent of storm Ophelia’s ferocity revealed as daily life resumes in Northern Ireland

Questions asked about the efficiency of official response to the gales

By Staff Reporters

Just 600 homes in Northern Ireland were without power last night after the Storm Ophelia clean-up got under way.

NIE Networks said it had restored power to the majority of the 53,000 customers affected by the storm following a Northern Ireland-wide effort to repair the damage to the electricity network.

Its emergency crews and engineers worked through last night in some areas, but due to the extent of the damage, small pockets of customers in the worst affected areas, mainly the South East, still had no power overnight.

Meanwhile, a school in south Belfast is set to re-open today despite losing it's roof to Ophelia's violent winds.

St Joseph's College on the Ravenhill Road sustained the worst damage of any school in Northern Ireland as 80mph winds ripped through.

The worst storm to batter our shores since 1961 ripped the top of the roof off one of the school's buildings on Monday.

However, a contractor has already been out to view the damage and secure the building temporarily, and the school is set to re-open this morning.

All schools across Northern Ireland closed on Monday and Tuesday on the orders of the Department of Education.

A spokesman for the Education Authority (EA) said that it had received no other reports of major damage to any other schools in Northern Ireland.

The EA has advised principals to examine their premises and reported any damage caused by the storm.

Chief executive Gavin Boyd wrote to principals yesterday thanking them for their co-operation this week, adding he wants the focus to be on getting schools back to normal as soon as possible.

"I would like to thank you for your cooperation over the last few days as we have all worked to ensure the safety of all of our children and young people," he stated.

"I understand that it has been a disruptive few days and the efforts of school staff are greatly appreciated in keeping parents informed in challenging circumstances.

Mr Boyd went on to advise principals to carry out a full check of their school premises if they have not already done so.

The EA chief also confirmed that school transport arrangements will be in place today, but warned that the storm damage has caused some road closures.

"Where road closures impact on transport arrangements, some pupils may be required to access school transport at alternative locations temporarily. We will seek to keep any disruption to a minimum and we appreciate continued cooperation from schools, pupils and parents," he added.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual estimated that the devastating gales affecting Northern Ireland, Wales and parts of Scotland could lead to claims costing £5m-10m.

NFU Mutual, which insures over 70% of UK farmers and thousands of rural homes and businesses in Northern Ireland, launched its emergency claims plan to speed help to its policyholders.

Martin Malone, NFU Mutual manager for Northern Ireland, said yesterday: "Based on what we are hearing today from our network of offices across Northern Ireland, damage appears to be mostly for slates or roofing sheets ripped from houses and farm buildings - together with damage to properties and vehicles from falling trees. This morning, we had 52 claims reported to us by Northern Ireland policyholders.

"However, with policyholders only now able to check damage as the winds subside, this is likely to rise."

It also emerged that Northern Ireland's emergency planning group did not meet until 2pm on Monday - two hours after weather alerts highlighted the storm then posed a risk to life.

It was revealed on the BBC's Nolan Show that the Civil Contingency Group did not meet face to face until the storm has already started battering many parts of Ireland.

A similar organisation in the Republic, the National Emergency Coordination Group, had been in continuous session from 10.30am on Sunday morning.

Interviewed on the Nolan Show, former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said that Northern Ireland's methods for dealing with potential disaster were out of date.

He added: "On one level it seems strange, on another (level) we have to remember that we don't have a government at the moment.

"The civil servants are there but there are no ministers. And unfortunately it's like being someone who has had a stroke, the brain has ceased to function and it doesn't work the way it should."

A statement from Stormont's Executive Office said: "The Met Office first alerted responders to Ophelia on Friday 13 with a yellow warning.

"The upgrading of the Met Office warning to an amber alert on Sunday resulted in the convening of a multi-agency teleconference meeting later that day."

Belfast Telegraph

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