30 years since the Great Storm
Thirty years on from the Great Storm of 1987, readers remember how it tore up parts of Britain
Many of us remember where we were the night of October 15, 1987, when one of the worst storms in history unexpectedly battered the British Isles. With gusts reaching up to 100mph, there was mass devastation as 15 million trees blew down, falling electricity lines plunged homes into darkness, buildings and roads were wrecked and sadly, 18 people lost their lives. Just the day before, forecasters warned of strong winds and heavy rain but had no idea of the impact, with weather presenter Michael Fish infamously reassuring viewers that no, there was definitely not going to be a hurricane and there was no need to panic... The bad weather began over the afternoon of the 15th; gales ramped up just as many of us were heading to bed, oblivious of the devastation to come. For some of us, it was a sleepless night, as we heard the roaring wind outside.
says, “Looking out of the window at 3am I could see it was pitch black as all the electricity had gone off and the trees were swaying. I had to change my two-month old’s nappy in the dark.” Some of us, however, were at work when the chaos struck. “I was working in Southampton General Hospital,” says Elaine Pannell, “when the external doors blew off. Scaffolding also collapsed, injuring a lot of workmen. I had to take blankets down the corridor with men on trollies on either side, covered in mud – it was like a scene from Casualty!”
husband, however, was significantly luckier that night. “My husband had been on a lad’s night out and, slightly worse for wear,
walked home. The lane he walked down had no lighting and he couldn’t see anything but could hear noises behind him. The next day, we were completely cut off as huge trees had been blown down including on the road he’d walked down. They must have only just missed him.” Most of us were openmouthed at the apocalyptic sights we opened our curtains to on October 16. “A few days before, we had new double glazing put in and closed all the windows,” says Felicity Furbey. “The first thing we knew that anything had happened was when our son came into our bedroom and told us there were trees down in the garden.” Leah Tonna couldn’t believe the sight she saw either. “Our garden wall was flattened, trees uprooted and heavy patio furniture lying yards away. My husband’s much-loved greenhouse was no more.”
Yours news editor, Jenny Cripps, a student at the time, turned to the TV for information. “I switched on the BBC News the morning after to see Nicholas Witchell warning people not to go out unless absolutely necessary. It looked like the studio had had a power cut as he was reading the news by very dim light. I tried to get to college but had to turn back as trees were everywhere.” These millions of fallen trees caused major transport delays and blocked roads and railways. Most areas were over the worst by morning, but in some parts, gusts were still wreaking havoc. “I was working in a DIY store in Barrow-in-Furness and that morning I looked out at the church across the road when the top of the steeple blew off, damaging a number of cars,” says Zita Bielby. At last, the winds finally subsided, but the damage caused was so serious it took the country several weeks to get back to normal. “My husband was an overhead linesman at the time,” remembers Barbara Wilkes. “And he was sent to the South to help restore power. It was two or three weeks before he came back.” But slowly, as trees were cleared, power surged back, and life returned to normal.
Above, a Sealink Ferry was forced onto dry land, while trees crashed onto cars and even phoneboxes couldn’t withstand the power of the Great Storm