People may yet be found dead after snow - Varadkar

Impact of one most extreme weather events to hit Ireland in 50 years yet to be assessed - Taoiseach

The Irish Air Corps captured footage of quiet roads and snow covered stadiums during a flyover the city this weekend. Video: Irish Air Corps

 

The Taoiseach has warned of the danger of finding people “dead in their homes” as the bill for Storm Emma reaches an estimated €100 million.

As the country struggled to return to normal, Leo Varadkar said the true impact of one the most extreme weather events to hit Ireland in 50 years has yet to be assessed.

“Things could have been very much worse,” Mr Varadkar said on a visit to some of the most severely snow-affected areas in Co Wexford. But he added: “There is the possibility that, as we clear the roads, as we get out to isolated areas, that we may find people dead in their homes in the coming days.”

As business groups estimated the cost of the severe weather at over €100 million, Mr Varadkar promised to provide extra resources to repair the damage it has caused.

While the snow has largely disappeared in many areas outside of the southeast, an orange weather alert will remain in place in many parts of the Republic throughout Monday morning as hazardous conditions persist.

Water rationing could also be rolled out across the State this week as Irish Water struggles to cope with the twin threats of a dramatic increase in demand and significant mains leaks caused by pipes burst over four days of snow and ice.

Although water shortages are possible in homes, an excess of water elsewhere is also possible as thawing snow mingles with falling rain leading to localised flooding, the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECG) has warned.

“While a thaw is happening, deep snow has accumulated in many areas with communities in Wexford, west Wicklow and north Kildare in particular being badly affected but many other areas are also severely impacted,” NECG chairman Seán Hogan said.

Restoration of services

“All agencies have been working flat-out to restore services across the country,” he said as he warned that Monday would “not be a normal Monday in many areas” and called on employers and employees to consider staggering opening and start times to reduce peak volumes of commuter traffic.

The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation has called for the first two weeks of March to be declared an emergency period in Irish hospitals

Irish Water has expressed concern over the increase in demand putting severe pressure on water treatment plants. The utility’s chief executive, Jerry Grant, said the Dublin area had recorded an increase in demand of more than 10 per cent over the weekend and, although water treatment plants have been working at peak output, storage was depleted by 30 million litres.

He said similar pressure issues had been reported elsewhere across the State and warned that unless the situation was rapidly reversed it would lead to pressure reductions and the possibility of further night-time restrictions in addition to those already rolled out in Donegal and other areas.

While potable water shortages are one concern, flooding is also a fear and a quick thaw, coupled with heavy rainfall, could see in a surge in water levels without warning.

Schools are making decisions about reopening on a “case-by-case basis” and while most are expect to resume activities, some in the areas worst-affected – west Wicklow, north Kildare and Wexford – will remain shut.

Milk and food

Milk collections have been curtailed in certain areas due to access difficulties, and some farmers are now at, or close to, storage capacity. While shops are in the process of restocking milk and other fresh produce, it may be a number of days before supplies return to normal levels.

The food supply issues of recent days prompted Mr Varadkar to suggest the Government may encourage people to keep more food at home in case of shortages during future extreme weather events.

With health services under continuing pressure and all non-urgent surgery cancelled again on Monday, the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation has called for the first two weeks of March to be declared an emergency period in Irish hospitals. The Health Service Executive says large numbers of patients have been unable to leave hospital due to snowfall and impassible roads.

Thaws have improved road conditions in many areas but extreme caution is still being advised as many routes are still blocked by snow and ice. One particular flashpoint identified by the NECG was a significant stretch of the M7 as heavy snowfalls in the Kildare area had led to a restriction to one lane between Junctions 8 and 10 at Naas.