At least 3 killed in Ireland as storm Ophelia prompts warning of 'danger to life'

PHOTO: Rays of sunlight shine through dark clouds as storm Ophelia hits the County Clare town of Doonbeg, Ireland Oct. 16, 2017.PlayClodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
WATCH Ireland, UK brace for Ophelia; officials warn of 'danger to life'

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia pummeled Ireland today, leaving at least three people dead in storm-related accidents, Ireland's National Police said.

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A woman in her 50s was killed when a tree fell on her car as she was driving. Another woman in her 70s who was a passenger in the car was injured. A man was also killed after a tree struck his car. And, a third person died in an incident related to the storm when he suffered a serious injury from a chainsaw as he was clearing a fallen tree, police said.

The Irish Meteorological Service reported wind gusts off the south coast of Ireland as high as 109 mph and said the wind was taking down trees. It said that the storm is expected to bring further "violent and destructive" wind as well as flooding from heavy rain and storm surges to Ireland. Ophelia is likely to be the most powerful storm to hit Ireland since Hurricane Debbie in 1961, forecasters said. Ireland closed schools and hospitals ahead of Ophelia, placed troops on standby and warned people to stay inside. The government said that schools will remain closed Tuesday. More than 350,000 homes and businesses are already without power.

The very strong winds will probably extend to parts of northern England along with some southern and central parts of Scotland in the evening, the U.K.'s meteorological service said.

Ophelia was the first Category 3 major hurricane recorded so far east and north in the Atlantic before it weakened to a post-tropical system.

The Met Office, the United Kingdom's national weather service, warned of the risk of strong winds blowing tiles from roofs and large waves throwing debris onto coastal roads, leading to “a potential for injuries and danger to life” in Northern Ireland.

It also issued an amber weather warning for Northern Ireland from 12:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. GMT today, saying power cuts are likely and that cancellations and longer journey times are to be expected as some bridges might close. Road, rail, air and ferry services might also be affected.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said residents should avoid "unnecessary travel or other outdoor activities." The U.S.-based disaster modeler Enki Research said Ophelia could cause up to $1.5 billion in damage in Ireland and up to $2.5 billion overall in the British Isles.

Ophelia is technically no longer a hurricane but has packed hurricane-level wind gusts while passing over Ireland.

“By the time Ophelia reaches our latitudes, she will be weakening and will be an ex-hurricane,” Steve Ramsdale, chief forecaster at the Met Office, said in a statement. “However, Ex-Ophelia will be bringing some significant impacts to Northern Ireland and western and northern Britain on Monday and Tuesday.”

Matt Crofts, a lifesaving manager with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a British charity that aims to rescue people at risk of drowning, warned people from going out to watch the big waves.

“Stormy conditions may be tempting to watch but big waves can easily knock you off your feet,” he said in a statement. “The sea is far more powerful than you think and your chances of survival are slim if you are dragged into the swell. Our volunteer lifeboat crews will always launch to rescue those in danger at sea, but to launch into conditions like these could also put their lives at risk.”

In the U.K., media have compared Ophelia to the Great Storm of 1987, which hit the country exactly 30 years ago and killed 22 people.