Sunday 15 December 2019

Wexford winterland

The snow brought out the best in Wexford photographers, including this stunning picture-postcard image of the Bull Ring from the lens of Declan Roche.
The snow brought out the best in Wexford photographers, including this stunning picture-postcard image of the Bull Ring from the lens of Declan Roche.
Members of the 3rd Army Battalion of the Defence Forces on snow clearing duty in The Faythe.

Maria Pepper

It will be some time before Wexford recovers from the worst snow storm in 70 years which brought misery and joy in equal measure.

What a week it has been since Met Eireann weather warnings sparked panic buying that led to empty bread shelves in the supermarkets and a run on fuel and heating oil.

After a flurry of snow on Tuesday night people were wondering what all the fuss was about and even into Wednesday with a light dusting of white stuff on the ground, there was scepticism that the Beast from the East would actually arrive.

All doubts were banished on Thursday afternoon when a true Red Alert blizzard set in, coupled with strong winds, trapping people inside their food-filled homes, closing schools, businesses and public services and emptying the streets of traffic.

On Friday morning, Wexford awoke to unprecedented scenes of a winter wonderland with streets and countryside silent, unfamiliar and impassable under a blanket of snow which drifted to great heights in places, transforming the landscape.

In an extraordinary occurrence, not witnessed in living memory, Wexford Harbour was filled with ice floes as the water temperature dropped to a freezing minus point eight degrees. The snow continued falling and it was a strange and lovely sight for a few hours until the electricity went around lunch-time on Friday along with telephone lines and broadband service in some cases. The blizzard continued stubbornly until late on Friday night.

Thousands of homes lost power due to the effects of snowfall and winds, leaving them without central heating, lights and most importantly for some, access to social media as vital mobile phone and laptop chargeability were lost.

Providing double trouble, many roads and paths were blocked not only by snow drifts but also by fallen trees which as well as sheds and farm buildings, fell under the sheer weight of snow, causing untold damage. The storm wreaked havoc on gardens. While the rest of us ate too much, battled boredeom in the safety of our homes and did unusual things like talk to each other, emergency crews from the County Council. ESB Networks, the Army and Civil Defence worked around the clock in freezing conditions to clear roads and restore services.In arctic explorer-style some people created their own outdoor sense of adventure by building igloos, of all things. Extraordinary measures were taken on our behalf with gardai and nurses staying in hotels overnight to ensure they would be able to get to work the next day. The Defence Forces and the Civil Defence braved treacherous conditions to bring patients to hospitals and clinics for vital life-saving treatment.

The farming community endured widespread hardship in cut-off rural areas but they also came to the rescue by using farm machinery to clear snow from roads. The tractor was the only vehicle to have and there were so many of them spotted driving around Wexford town on Saturday that you could have been mistaken for thinking there was a Massey Ferguson convention.

There was a Christmas-at-the North Pole-style atmosphere in the centre of town at the weekend after one-way-traffic-only pathways had been cleared through the streets and many shops and services re-opened.

People ventured out to shop and once again there was a run on bread, milk and meat, resulting in more empty shelves in the supermarkets. What businesses lost in the days of closure they gained in the weather-inspired bonanza that took place when they were open. There was added misery for thousands of people who lost their water service on top of electricity supply due to frozen and burst pipes and were forced to trudge through the snow to collect essential water from tankers before boiling it at home, if they were lucky to have power. For them, the hardship continued into Monday as Irish Water and Wexford County Council battled to repair faults.

At first, national media reports seemed to overlook the severity of the effects of Storm Emma on Wexford but that changed when An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived on Sunday afternoon to congratulate Wexford County Council on its trojan efforts in person and to speak to hospital and ambulance staff.

As life begins to return to normal, a slowly-thawing Wexford and district, covered in mountains of shovelled snow, has been left to pick up the pieces and count the damage caused by the latest severe weather event.

Wexford People

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