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Extreme weather

Hurricane Ophelia bears down on Ireland and the UK, bringing down trees, power lines

About 120,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, 130 flights were cancelled, schools, hospitals and public transport services were closed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 10:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 9:59pm

Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall on Ireland’s southern coast on Monday, knocking down trees and power lines and whipping up 10-metre waves, as the government warned the country’s worst storm in half a century could cause fatalities.

A woman died in the southeast Irish county of Waterford when a tree fell on her car as a result of the storm, national broadcaster RTE said, quoting the local council office.

RTE said the woman was the sole occupant of the car and was pronounced dead at the scene as the storm began to batter Ireland’s southern coast.

About 120,000 homes and businesses were without electricity with more outages expected and 130 flights were cancelled from Dublin Airport. Schools, hospitals and public transport services were closed and the armed forces were dispatched to bolster flood defences.

The storm, downgraded from a hurricane overnight, made landfall after 9.40am, the Irish National Meteorological Service said, with winds as strong as 176km/h hitting the most southerly tip of the country and flooding likely.

“These gusts are life threatening. Do not be out there,” the chairman of Ireland’s National Emergency Coordination Group Sean Hogan said on RTE.

“Our concern is to avoid a situation where we have fatalities as a result of the extremely destructive and violent gusts that we are expecting,” he said.

Hurricane force winds are expected in every part of the country, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, advising people to stay indoors.

“While the storm in some parts of the country is not yet that bad, it is coming your way,” Varadkar told a news conference.

Britain’s meteorological service put an Amber Weather Warning into effect for Northern Ireland from 2pm through to 9pm, saying the storm posed a danger to life and was likely to cause transport cancellations, power cuts and flying debris.

“Impactful weather” is expected in other western and northern parts of the United Kingdom, it said.

British media are comparing Ophelia to the “Great Storm” of 1987, which subjected parts of the United Kingdom to hurricane strength winds 30 years ago to the day.

The centre of the storm was expected to move across Ireland during the day before moving towards western Scotland overnight.

The Irish government said the storm could be the worst since Hurricane Debbie, which killed 11 in Ireland in 1961.

The storm was expected to pass close to a west of Ireland golf course owned by US President Donald Trump, who has been planning a wall to protect its greens from coastal erosion.

Similar sized storms in the past have changed the shape of stretches of the Irish coastline, climatologists said.

Ophelia is the 15th named storm of the 2017 Atlantic season, which is expected to last until the end of November.

Three major hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – caused catastrophic damage in the Caribbean and the US Gulf coast.

Meteorologists say Ophelia is the most powerful hurricane recorded so far east in the Atlantic and the first since 1939 to travel so far north.

It was classed as category 3 on Saturday as it passed near Portugal’s Azores islands, carrying winds of at least 178km/h.

Airlines including Ryanair and Aer Lingus and British Airways had grounded hundreds of flights and warned that more cancellations were likely as Ophelia slammed into Ireland.

By 11.30am on Monday, Ryanair had halted 92 flights from across Europe. Dublin-based competitor Aer Lingus cancelled 50 services, while British Airways said stormy weather would affect operations across the UK and cause disruptions, including a “small number” of cancellations at London Heathrow airport.

In Spain, three people died in forest fires whipped by strong wind gusts spawned by Hurricane Ophelia.

The fires were raging across the region of Galicia with the flames fanned by wind gusts of up to 90km/h as the storm moved north off the coast of Spain towards Ireland, the head of the regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said.

“The situation is critical,” he added.

Three people have also died in bush fires in Portugal, which local authorities said had been exacerbated by drought.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg