Belfast Telegraph

Stormont under fire for a lack of forward-planning as Eleanor strikes

By Brett Campbell

Stormont has been slammed for failing to adequately prepare for Storm Eleanor, whose 90mph gusts brought down hundreds of trees and power lines across the province.

An amber weather warning issued by the Met Office was valid from 7.30pm on Tuesday - but the various government agencies didn't liaise until 15 minutes after it came into force.

The Executive Office said: "A regional multi-agency conference call was convened at 7.45pm to enable the emergency services, relevant government departments and local government to assess the potential impacts, co-ordinate communication and implement a co-ordinated emergency planning response across all sectors.

"Front line responders and multi-agencies were prepared from this time and started an immediate response."

It insisted the timing of the conference was "appropriate" because the purpose was to give reassurance to agencies and identify immediate next steps.

But DUP MLA Carla Lockhart slammed officials for a "lack of planning" that put extra pressure on the emergency services, who were left to pick up the pieces.

"This came very suddenly and I don't think the authorities were prepared for it," she said.

"There was no decision from the hierarchy within the Department for Infrastructure and people resorted to relying on social media - the PSNI seemed to be getting frustrated by it all.

"They were advising people to call the Roads Service helpline, but it was almost impossible to get through."

South Down and Armagh were the worst affected areas after strong gales and heavy rain battered the UK and Ireland from Tuesday night well into Wednesday morning.

More than 25,000 homes and businesses lost power during the storm.

Last night NIE Networks was still working in a bid to restore electricity to just under 1,000 properties.

There were numerous reports of people who had lucky escapes during the treacherous weather conditions, including a woman who had a tree fall on her car moments after she got out of it and a lorry driver whose vehicle was crushed under a large tree.

While properties, vehicles, roof slates and garden trampolines bore the brunt of Storm Eleanor, many residents were left devastated by widespread damage.

"There's been extensive damage and we have lots of issues to work through, the clean-up will go on for some time," Ms Lockhart added.

"Debris is everywhere, trees need cut back and power still needs to be fully restored."

The Upper Bann MLA said one of the big problems now facing residents was the task of clearing trees which had fallen on private property.

"Many have come down on cars and houses and that's much more difficult to resolve because in many circumstances insurance companies won't pay out because they consider storm damage as an 'act of God'," she said.

Fallen trees, collapsed power lines and loose debris resulted in 150 road closures and caused significant disruption.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon SDLP councillor Joe Nelson accused officials of "underestimating" the storm.

"I find Roads Service generally to be quite unresponsive. Their call handling procedures are not on a par with other agencies when it comes to dealing with emergency situations, or any situation, because they don't have the same technology or the same customer service standards."

Police in Craigavon pleaded with residents to stop sharing fallen tree locations on their social media page after they were bombarded with more than 100 weather-related reports.

Police were dealing with numerous incidents, including one in which three officers came under attack as they were administering first aid to a man who had been stabbed in the head.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said a total of 190 staff were working during Storm Eleanor.

These included 160 DfI Roads staff and 27 from DfI Rivers. Last night many of them were still working to clear around 15 roads, which remained closed.

Belfast Telegraph

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