Storm Ophelia causes significant disruption in Northern Ireland

18,500 homes left without power, schools forced to close and Stormont talks postponed

Staff from the Northern Ireland Road Service close the Peace Bridge in Derry, as Hurricane Ophelia hits the UK. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Staff from the Northern Ireland Road Service close the Peace Bridge in Derry, as Hurricane Ophelia hits the UK. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Storm Ophelia caused significant disruption in Northern Ireland with some 18,500 households left without power, while schools, universities and several businesses were forced to close.

Many roads also were closed due to falling trees and flying debris while air, sea, rail and bus services were cancelled or severely delayed.

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire said the British army would be brought in to deal with emergencies if required.

Heavy winds and gusts caused damage to the electricity network with trees, branches and other debris bringing down power lines and poles, according to Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE).

However, in terms of power cuts Northern Ireland was not as badly hit as the Republic where 360,000 people were left without electricity.

Power restored

By teatime approximately 18,500 customers were without electricity across all parts of Northern Ireland with power restored to 20,000 customers since Storm Ophelia’s arrival in the North.

“NIE Networks will be working into the night to do all that we can to restore electricity supplies to our customers as quickly and safely as we can,” said NIE spokeswoman Sara McClintock.

She added that NIE expected the number of customers affected by power cuts to rise as strong winds with gusts of 96-112km/h were forecast, especially on the Antrim and Down coasts.

Tree surgeons were called out to remove trees blocking roads but in many instances they had to abandon their work because of the dangers of falling trees and broken live electricity wires.

The storm also had an impact on the Northern Ireland talks aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly. Former US president Bill Clinton was due to meet the DUP and Sinn Féin in Belfast on Monday to encourage them to end the political deadlock.

That plan had to be abandoned due to the storm, although there is a possibility he could meet the parties sometime on Tuesday.

Some businesses did not open on Monday while many closed early to allow workers home before the brunt of the storm hit Northern Ireland.

Impact

All schools and universities closed in Northern Ireland and a decision was taken on Monday evening that they should all close again on Tuesday.

In the absence of a Northern Executive it was up to senior Stormont civil servant to direct operations to counter the impact of the storm.

A meeting of the various agencies covering areas such as electricity, roads, water and housing was held at Stormont to plan for various eventualities.

On a number of radio phone-in programmes complaints were made the announcement all schools would close came late on Sunday night while it took until Monday before it was established third-level colleges were also closing.

Comparisons were drawn with the Republic where notice of school and college closures came earlier.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling acknowledged safety advice and information could have been provided earlier to the public.

“Perhaps in hindsight we may have done some things more quickly. But now we have given clear evidence and advice out to the community and we will continue to do that,” he said.