Northern Ireland storm: man dies in Lisburn after tree falls on van
Stormy conditions brought tragedy to Northern Ireland when a man died after his catering van was struck by a tree in Lisburn.
The man was crushed as he sat in the vehicle after a large tree came down on the Hillsborough Road shortly before noon.
A short time later, a woman in her 70s was injured when a pallet was sent hurtling through the air outside Connswater shopping centre in east Belfast, striking her on the head.
She had been with her three-year-old grandddaughter and the child's mother at the time and all three were treated in A&E at the Royal Victoria Hospital but were released last night.
Ealier two girls on their way to school were also treated by ambulance crews after being blown off their feet into the side of a bus in Belfast city centre near the Albert Clock.
Storm Rachel, generated by an Atlantic cyclone, wrought the most devastating damage in Lisburn when the man crushed in his van became what is thought to be the only UK victim of the savage winds.
The incident happened just outside Lisburn Care Home and the city's tax office, 100 yards from Lagan Valley Hospital.
The tree, described by local residents as a mature oak, was understood to be of significant size. It crushed the driver's side of the white van, which belonged to a catering company.
It has not been confirmed whether the van had been moving or was stationary when it was struck.
The Hillsborough Road was closed immediately and remained closed overnight.
Police manning the scene turned pedestrians away because of fears of further tree falls.
At around 6pm recovery vehicles were seen moving into the area before one emerged from the police cordon bearing the damaged van, the front of which was draped with a tarpaulin.
Minutes later another vehicle took away several freshly-sawn sections of the tree.
Local residents were left stunned by the tragedy.
Andrew Ewing, the DUP mayor of Lisburn, said the freak accident had shocked the community.
"I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic news that a man lost his life as a result of this accident involving a tree," he said. "My thoughts and prayers are with the man's family at this very sad time.
"You just never know the minute. This is a terrible tragedy and totally unexpected."
Maureen Staniland, who lives close to the scene of the accident, said she had seen the tree lying on the road shortly after police and emergency services began to appear on the scene.
"It's just awful," she commented.
Mrs Staniland confirmed reports that the circumference of the downed tree appeared "fairly big". She said the street was lined by a mix of trees and that one had to be cut down by the council recently when neighbours complained it was "a bit wobbly".
Across the rest of Northern Ireland, power lines were torn down as Storm Rachel's winds reached up to 80 miles per hour, leaving thousands of homes, schools and businesses without electricity.
Two lorries drove into electricity wires ripped down by the winds on the main road between Armagh and Portadown.
At the Maze, a marquee at an agricultural event was also flattened by the gusts, which also halted a number of ferry services.
In east Belfast, a 70-year-old woman was leaving Connswater Shopping Centre when she and her daughter and three-year-old granddaughter were caught in the path of a wooden pallet tossed into the air by the wind.
An employee of the centre, who declined to be named, said the pallet had been lying on the ground and had not fallen off a lorry as some reports suggested.
"The people had been down near the entrance and the pallet was round the corner, on higher ground and it just flew up and hit the woman," he said.
"She had a cut to one side of her head. She was not badly hurt but we helped her out and called an ambulance."
A spokesperson for the RVH confirmed the trio had been treated for minor injuries and had been discharged by early evening.
There was further misery in Londonderry as motorists struggled through a third day of adverse weather.
The heavy snowfall that brought icy driving conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday was replaced by high winds which closed the Foyle Bridge for almost eight hours.
Long tailbacks of traffic - as much as seven miles in some directions - left frustrated commuters stuck behind the wheels of their stationary vehicles for long periods.
The 126ft high Foyle bridge is automatically closed by Roads Service if wind speeds reach 50mph or more and as Storm Rachel raged across Northern Ireland at speeds of up to 80mph yesterday, traffic flow around Derry city centre slowed to a snail's pace.
City Centre Manager Jim Roddy said that while closing the bridge did have a major impact on the city, he believed Roads Service made the right decision.
He said: "People's safety has to be paramount and it simply was not safe for motorists to be on the bridge during the high winds we experienced.
"City Centre Initiative was in constant contact with Road Service throughout the day and using our text alert system we were able to get information out to the public as quickly as possible.
"Even so, the traffic getting into the city was extremely slow and the knock-on effect of the extraordinary weather we have experienced this week has taken its toll on business.
"I don't recall so much snow falling in such a short period of time before and while the majority of staff in the shops, restaurants and bars braved the elements and made it into their work, the downside was when they got there, there were no customers for them.
"Trade has been virtually wiped out so far this week, which is extremely unfortunate, but when you are up against nature there is no way of predicting what will happen."
Yellow weather warnings were continuing into today for ice and snow in some parts of Northern Ireland but the winds were expected to ease down overnight.