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High winds lead to Cliffs evacuation

CLARE’S best-known tourist attraction was evacuated on Tuesday, for just the third time in five years, as high winds battered the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre.

Staff and visitors were brought by car from the centre’s service entrance to the coach and car parks, after it was judged too dangerous to walk the short distance outdoors.
According to Katherine Webster, director of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, the circumstances on Tuesday were “exceptional”.
Between 30 and 40 people, including staff, were evacuated from the site at lunchtime, after wind speeds increased to dangerous levels.
“There weren’t substantial numbers there at the time but a couple of coaches arrived, more or less as we made the decision to close the centre between midday and 1pm,” outlined Ms Webster.
“There were probably about 12 to 20 people on the coaches but at that stage all of the car-based visitors had left. There were about 13 or 14 Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre Ltd staff there and a further seven to 10 staff from Shannon Heritage on site at the time,” explained Ms Webster, who was not at the centre herself at the time.
Because of its exposed location, the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre has three extreme weather protocols, the most serious of which was invoked this week.
The colour-coded protocols vary from white to yellow to the most serious red. When standard wind speeds are approximately 30kph, white signs are erected, warning visitors to take care at the site. The yellow protocol means winds have reached in the region of 50kph and while the centre remains open, conditions are considered “extremely hazardous”.
“The third level is red protocol, which was activated on Tuesday. This usually corresponds to winds of 70kph but gusts would be higher. Five years ago when we were establishing the protocols, we found that there is a time when it is not safe for staff to remain on site. It is at that point we put up the red signs and tell people that under no circumstances should they pass the signs.
“We notify local radio and AA Roadwatch and contact all our coach tour customers. Then we evacuate members of the public and then staff. On Tuesday, we had to do that by driving a vehicle into the service entrance, which is a tunnel that is big enough for a car and take people from the centre and bring them to their cars,” Ms Webster explained.
Those planning on visiting the Cliffs in the coming days are being warned to call in advance to find out about conditions and are being urged to heed warnings from staff while there.
“At the moment, the conditions have calmed down but we have extreme weather warnings for later in the week,” Ms Webster stated on Wednesday. “We don’t expect the weather to be as bad as it was on Tuesday but people should call ahead to the visitor centre before coming up to the Cliffs to check what the situation is,” she concluded.


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