By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The worst weather since Hurricane Debbie struck the country in 1961 has left thousands of buildings damaged by floods, and wind and power damage that resulted in many homes and businesses being without electricity during most of the holiday.
Insurance companies are now bracing themselves for multi-million-pound claims for damage after one of the worst bouts of Christmas and New Year weather in memory.
In 1997, storms that hit the country on Christmas Eve led to 47,500 insurance claims totaling £622 million in damages.
A pattern of repeating storms sweeping in from the Atlantic made the holiday a misery for many and disrupted the travel plans of holidaying immigrants from Britain as ferries spent much of the time tied up in port sheltering from the severe weather.
The most ferocious storm to hit the countrythis year came on St. Stephen’s Day. At one stage more than 160,000 homes were without power as a result.
The power of the storm took many by surprise as it roared in from the Atlantic and ripped roofs off buildings.
Worst affected areas were the west, north and northwest. Gusts of 109 mph were recorded at Malin Head in Donegal, just below the 112 mph recorded in 1961.
The storm brought down 1,800 ESB poles, caused more than 8,000 separate line breaks and damaged 900 pieces of equipment on the national grid.
Several airline flights were canceled, train services were disrupted by trees on lines, and many roads were impassable due to floods or fallen trees.
The havoc led to some homes remaining dark and cold for more than five days. Food poisoning alerts were issued as many food freezers melted, candles sold out in affected areas and farmers struggled to cope with milking their herds without mains power.
Northern Ireland was also badly affected and extra repair crews were brought in from England and Scotland to try to cope with the backlog of repairs.
It was quickly followed by another storm, which hit the south of the country. Power was knocked out to thousands more homes and serious flooding affected Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Tipperary.
Worst hit in the second storm were homes and businesses in Fermoy and Mallow, where the army was called out to help with evacuations as waters rose to almost cover the first story of many buildings.
New weather fronts from the Atlantic, each with winds of 70 and 80 mph, continued to cause localized power outages and further structural damage right through into the New Year.
Emigrants returning to Britain after the Christmas holiday break were left stranded after the cancellation of ferry sailings due to the weather.
Three Dublin teenagers who had been stranded on Carrauntoohill, Co. Kerry, for three days were eventually located and led to safety by the Kerry mountain rescue team.
In Dunhallow, in Cork, the floods almost claimed a life when a local farmer was caught in heavy floodwater. The farmer, in his 50s, was crossing a bridge spanning the Blackwater near Ballydaly, between Millstreet and Rathmore, when his tractor cut out and he had to stay with it amid rising flood waters. A neighboring farmer spotted him in difficulty and gárdaí were alerted, and they called in Killarney lake rescue team which reached the farmer using tackle and wet suits.