Ophelia lashes country as winds hit 140kmh
Hurricane Ophelia lashed the country today as services were put on lockdown.
Schools and colleges were shut throughout the country, and all hospital outpatient appointments were cancelled as one of the fiercest storms to hit Ireland in recorded history reached land.
Ophelia touched down on the west coast at around 6am, in an unprecedented extreme weather event for this part of the world.
Met Eireann forecast winds of up to 140kmh, with Status Red warnings in place for the entire country.
Officials have said warnings should be taken very seriously and advised people to stay indoors.
Presenting Met Eireann's model for the path of the storm at an emergency briefing yesterday, forecaster Evelyn Cusack said it was alarming.
"That is because it is an unprecedented weather situation," she said.
Only 15 hurricanes have passed within 200 nautical miles of the Azores archipelago since scientific monitoring began in 1851, and Hurricane Ophelia is the strongest.
Sean Hogan, chair of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group, likened the event to Hurricane Debbie which hit Ireland in 1961, killing 15 people in the Republic.
"The nature of the extreme weather conditions are expected to be comparable with, or perhaps to exceed those of Hurricane Debbie in 1961," Mr Hogan said. "The swathe of the area affected by the storm may exceed 100km."
Ms Cusack said Met Eireann took the "unprecedented step" of issuing a Status Red warning more than 48 hours before a weather event.
"We issue very few red alert warnings and certainly they are always within a 24-hour period," she said.
US-based commercial weather service, Weather Underground, reported that "...with Ophelia strengthening even more than predicted, a destructive wind storm in Ireland on a par with some of the most damaging in the nation's history is becoming increasingly likely".
BBC Weather reported that the storm was the strongest on record this far east of the Atlantic.
Mayo, Kerry, Galway, Clare, Cork and Limerick were issued with Status Red warnings over the weekend, and the list was expanded yesterday to include Wexford and Waterford. However, last night the Status Red was extended yet again to cover the entire country.
The HSE released a statement advising that all hospital outpatient appointments are being cancelled today.
"Consequently, patients do not need to attend or contact the hospital and they will be rescheduled as soon as possible," it said.
For those patients with scheduled or planned procedures, the HSE advised them that they can contact the hospital this morning to confirm if their procedure is going ahead.
"In order to minimise unnecessary travel risks for patients, only urgent procedures will take place," the statement added.
The HSE also said that only essential community services will operate today. Emergency departments and the National Ambulance Service will operate as normally.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education informed all schools, colleges and other education institutions that they were to remain closed today in response to the unprecedented storm.
Creches, pre-school and childcare providers were advised that they should make "safety their priority" when deciding whether or not to open during the storm.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs confirmed that no service in receipt of funding from Government schemes will be penalised if it closes today because of the extreme weather conditions.
Due to the alert, all Dublin council parks, swimming pools, libraries and sports halls will also be shut.
Travel plans for many commuters were also thrown into jeopardy.
Bus Eireann said last night that it will not operate any of its nationwide services, including the Expressway network, between 5am and 2pm today.
A number of flights to and from Dublin Airport were cancelled. Spokesperson Siobhan O'Donnell said: "Dublin Airport will remain open throughout the day. However, a number of flights to and from Dublin have been cancelled.
"It's up to the individual airline on whether to cancel more flights following the Red Status warning in Dublin," said Ms O'Donnell.
"We're advising all passengers to contact their airline or check their website before making their way to Dublin Airport."
Aer Lingus, British Airways, Air France, CityJet and KLM have all cancelled some services.
Ryanair said its flights are expected to operate as scheduled, but has asked passengers to check its website and social media outlets.
A spokesperson for the Courts Service said all courts due to sit in Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Galway have been postponed.
People in other areas were being advised to check locally with their court office whether or not they require to be in court.