Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Tragic death: The human cost of Storm Ali

The tragic death of a young engineer working at a water pumping station at Slieve Gullion Forest Park during last week’s ferocious Storm Ali has brought home the dangers faced by those working for utility companies and emergency services in response to severe weather events.

Twenty-four-year-old Matt Campbell, from Glengormley, was working for Lagan Construction on behalf of NI Water when a tree fell on him at the entrance to the Forest Park around lunchtime on Wednesday afternoon.  His colleague, aged in his forties, was seriously injured and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he is still receiving treatment.

The tragedy happened at the height of the storm which swept across the country on Wednesday, bringing winds of up to 80mph in areas. An amber ‘be prepared’ weather warning was in force from 8am with the public warned of the potential risk to life as well as travel disruptions and cuts to power supplies as the record September winds swept in.

During the worst of the storm, more than 90,000 homes in the north experienced power cuts, and extensive damage from flying debris, fallen trees and power lines was reported across the country, with south Armagh one of the worst affected areas. 

Lagan Construction, for whom Mr Campbell was a valued employee, said staff are “deeply saddened” at the tragedy.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the two families at this time.  We are offering support and counselling services to colleagues and we continue to work closely with the statutory authorities,” a spokesperson said.

Extending his sympathies to Mr Campbell’s bereaved family, fiancée, friends and work colleagues, SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty, said the tragic loss of life served as a reminder of the danger workers face during such adverse conditions.  

He paid tribute to the “truly heroic effort” of those who responded on the ground, “from the emergency services, utility companies and the various government departments and agencies, to those who manned the phones in the various incident rooms, to those who were out on the ground carrying out repairs”.

“I want to place on record my sincere thanks for all the work they put in, both day and night, often in hazardous conditions,” said Mr McNulty, who added that “lessons to be learned” at how such events are responded to.

Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon said the death has “shocked and saddened” the local community.

“I want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of this man at this difficult time. The thoughts of our entire community are with them.  I also want to commend the emergency services for risking dangerous conditions to respond swiftly to this incident to help others,” she said.

Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor also extended his sympathies: “My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time and I hope they find the necessary comfort and strength as they try to come to terms with their devastating loss in the days which lie ahead.  I also want to express my hope that the gentleman’s colleague who was seriously injured in the incident is restored to full health as soon as possible,” he added.