When the wind blows - remembering the Great Storm of 1987
- Credit: Archant
When we went to bed on the night of October 15 1987, we couldn't have believed what was about to happen. Overnight a once-in-200-years storm swept through, changing lives, destroying trees by the thousands and causing millions of pounds of damage. Here are some of your stories from the Great Storm of 1987...
• 'Everything was destroyed'
We couldn't find the paths. It was a different world. I thought, 'is Fairhaven finished? – everything is destroyed.' Our instructions had been to protect and preserve the 2nd Lord Fairhaven's garden; that morning it was no longer there. The trees he loved were flattened. The Great Storm felled 2,000 trees, including more than 100 mature oak trees that had been planted in the 18th century. The fallen oaks were sold for £1,500 and were removed by a forestry contractor, causing more damage with deep ruts. Some of the holes left by the oak trees could have been filled by a double-decker bus – they were so deep. Some 2,500 trees were planted including oak, beech and wild cherry.
George Debbage, former Head Gardener at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, South Walsham
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• 'A broken beach hut came blowing across the path'
My husband took our St Bernard, Waldo, for a walk along Pakefield beach to look at the sea during the storm. However, at some point during the walk, Waldo turned tail and ran full-pelt, dragging my husband with him off to the side. At that point, parts of a broken beach hut came blowing across the path and if Waldo had not of dragged Tim out of the way, then they would have both been injured far more seriously than just some grazes and a stretched arm.
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Lyn Dearing, senior officer for sales and receivables at Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils
• 'We had no electricity for about three weeks'
We were in Suffolk at the time and had only had damage to our garden shed but we had no electricity for about three weeks. I came down on the first morning after the storm to find my husband in the sitting room with a candle under a tea cup - what on earth was he doing? He was trying to make a cup of coffee for me. Luckily, we had a barbecue and managed to cook that some of the time.
Elizabeth Mooney, Diss
• 'I could not believe the devastation'
At the time of the gales in 1987 my then partner and I were living at Hasketon. I was repeatedly being told that 'it was awful outside', but I could not bring myself to leave my cosy bed and look! When I eventually surfaced early in the morning I could not believe the devastation that met my eyes. A massive oak tree had been uprooted, a conservatory had been smashed to smithereens, there was no electricity and no telephones. The whole scenario was simply unbelievable.
Sue Abbott, Leiston
• 'It was very emotional'
When we drove up in our van, people poured out into the street they were so pleased to see us. It was two weeks of solid work, but it was people's reactions which kept you going. The emotion bubbled up inside and it was great to be thanked like that. I have worked for the company for more than 50 years now, but you never lose that feeling of pride when you have done your bit.
Henry Moye, Field Engineer with UK Power Networks, Bury St Edmunds
• 'Never forgotten'
There was noise and constant pressure on the roof, as if to see how much it would take before giving way. We had an early start as we were scheduled to take our elder son to the railway station ready for an extended trip to the US. Once we were packed and ready we set out in our Transit van with my husband, son and myself intending to drive to Great Yarmouth station, but there was no way out of Great Ormesby. We had to circle round and go inland intending to make for Acle station instead, and with several detours we managed to get there. We decided to carry on from Norwich and eventually reached it, many phone lines were down so there was minimal information but definitely no trains as lines were blocked. We couldn't do anything but carry on towards London as we were afraid our son would lose his ticket to America if he didn't show up.
How my husband managed to keep the Transit on the road I'll never know.
After an admittedly tearful goodbye, my husband and I set off for home by the same tortuous route, arriving home well after 10pm. Never forgotten.
Rita Grehan, Ormesby
• 'I must have slept through it'
I was 13 when the storm happened in 1987, but I do not recall much activity during the evening of the storm – I must have slept through it. The following morning I had to get the bus to school, I waited outside my old dentist on Risbygate Street in Bury St Edmunds and was a little concerned when a double-decker bus trundled towards us.
I could not have been that worried though as I sat on the top deck of the bus. My school was out in the country and the top deck window must have been hit four or five times by branches. Eventually, the bus driver asked us to sit downstairs. I remember a few trees had blown down at school, but in true British fashion – it was very much a case of 'nothing to see here' and 'let's carry on as normal.'
John Nice, PR
• 'Customers sometimes had to wait a while before they were able to reinstate their properties'
I don't think anyone realised the enormity of the situation until 48 hours afterwards, particularly since East Anglia wasn't as badly damaged as some other areas. One major problem was that there were insufficient builders prepared to carry out so much of the work required, so customers sometimes had to wait a while before they were able to reinstate their properties. A second problem related to a very small number of builders who tried (successfully) to inflate the cost of general building repairs. So our claims staff had to be very wary about estimates supplied.
Tony Griggs, Ipswich
• 'Having the time off school was great fun'
I was 12 years old at the time of the storm, and no school buses were running as the roads were all blocked due to living in a rural area of Norfolk. We had to heat tins of baked beans on the fire, and used candles and an oil lamp for lighting. Having the time off school was great fun, but as a child I didn't really appreciate the devastation until we were out and about.
• 'I was drafted in to help to answer 999 calls'
Waking up and looking out of the bedroom window that morning, I was greeted by a lawn covered in sizeable twigs and small branches from now completely leafless trees and the shed roof devoid of any felt. The sheer scale of the devastation did not hit home until I tried to get to work in Great Yarmouth.
I got as far as Acle police station near the sale ground to be confronted by a police officer turning back the traffic. A huge, fully-grown conifer tree was completely blocking the road. That's when the severity of the storm really hit home.
I decided to try to get to our Prospect House head office in Norwich instead. After a series of diversions and changes of route caused by blocked roads, I reported for duty mid-morning. As the then crime reporter, I was dispatched to Norfolk Constabulary headquarters, then adjoining County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich. The police control room was struggling to keep up with the phones ringing so I was very quickly drafted in to help to answer 999 calls.
Back home that evening, after a long but exciting day, I was fumbling around in the dark with a torch and tarpaulin putting a temporary cover over the bare wooden boards of the shed roof. I never did find the felt though.
Andy Russell, commercial motors editor, Archant
• 'I had to dodge the falling roof tiles'
I was 13 years old at the time and had a paper round. Those parents that cared for their children didn't let them do their rounds that morning, however a couple of paper boys and me still did ours – I had to dodge the falling roof tiles. Mind you, EADT did write a nice letter to the newsagents that I delivered for, thanking the few that made sure their newspapers were still delivered. Isn't it crazy what some kids would do to earn a whopping £7.50 a week?'
Darren James Amass, Electrician
• 'We had to get the chainsaws out'
Myself and Chris Clark had been appointed emergency advisors by the parish councils. On the morning of October 16 I was awakened by Chris shouting outside my bedroom window. I realised that there was no electricity. I was confronted with the sight of my apple trees blown over and the greenhouse totally demolished. The driveway was covered with tree branches and most of the tiles had all been blown off my barn. As I am a farmer this was not good news as I milled and mixed all my feed in it. The first requirement was to open up the highway for traffic, Chris and I got out our chainsaws and by 11am had cleared the roads up to the village boundaries. No one could get to work.
Russell Ling, Suffolk
• 'We heard about a student friend who had narrowly escaped death'
I was a student living in Brighton at the time and remember waking up in the middle of the night when my window smashed because it was swinging in the wind. Later, we heard about a student friend who had narrowly escaped death.
My girlfriend at the time lived back home in Essex, and next day I blagged a lift in the back of a van with a load of student rockers. The journey took an age and to pass the time a few of the guys started to recite The Life of Brian word for word from start to finish. It was enough to tarnish my view of Monty Python forever.
Ross Bentley, editor of Business East Monthly
• 'It was a very life-changing day'
October 16 1987, I was nine. My late father was a port policeman at time, and the storm left my dad paralysed from the neck down after the wind blew him off his feet. It was a very life-changing day, which I sadly remember very well.
'I was only 15 and worried about my mum and home'
I was going on the school exchange from UK to Germany by boat on the night of the storm. The North Sea was completely still and it wasn't until the next day we realised we couldn't contact our families back home to say we had arrived safely. It took several days to get information to our families, which was scary as I was only 15.
• 'It was terrifying'
I lived in Alpington on my own and it was terrifying. No damage to my cottage - thank goodness - as it was in a bit of a dip. But lots of trees on my neighbour's land came down and the owner was in tears.
Linda Johnson, Norfolk
• 'We were told a rig had broke its moorings and was on a collision course'
I was working as a crane operator in the Southern North Sea for Zapata Drilling, on the Bonanza Jack Up Rig. We were told that a semi-submersible rig had broke its moorings and was on a collision course for ours. It also had four divers in the de-compression chamber on board. At first, we were told that it was too windy for the helicopters to come and evacuate us. So, as you can imagine, a slight panic set it.
After a while, the wind eased enough for the choppers to fly, so we all had to put on abandon suits and wait. When the chopper did eventually land, we had to crawl across the heli-pad net on hands and knees while the chopper was being lifted up and down by the wind. We were evacuated to a nearby Phillips gas platform, where we watched the stricken rig pass by within 500 metres of our rig. Later that day, they managed to get lines aboard and re-capture it. It really did break the 12-hour shift up.
John Cullum, Shamrock Motor Company
• 'Really frightening'
Walked to work from Old Catton to the N&N [hospital]. There were no buses running, glass was falling from lampposts, debris blowing around - it was really frightening. Got to work in one piece, miraculously.
Karen Hicks, Old Catton
• 'At the time I thought it was great fun'
I was three during the Great Storm. My family had not long moved to Suffolk and, ironically, just months before when my parents bought our house, dad asked the estate agent whether the property (near to a river) was susceptible to flooding – 'If your house floods, you can move into our place' the estate agent replied cockily, only to eat his words just weeks later when the storm surge brought river water right up to the top of the doorstep. We never did move in with the estate agent! My overriding memory of the flooding was my babysitters in their wellies, dragging me up and down the road in a little dinghy. At the time I thought it was great fun.
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis, Food editor for EADT
• 'It was certainly a long night'
We had to move out of our house for six weeks. We had no electricity, and had to have a new roof, gable end and windows from where they had blown in. The kitchen cooker was in the middle of the floor with pots and pans, and broken tiles had blown into the kitchen too. We lived down Gulpher Road, Felixstowe.
Sue Lloyd Brace
• 'I slept through it'
I was 16 and lived in Frettenham at the time. I slept through the storm but our little village was a mess.
Debbie Rayner, Norfolk
• 'It was carnage'
I slept through the storm but I remember waking up in the morning and I noticed that the curtains in my bedroom were moving and the windows were buckling in.
I turned the radio on to see what was going on in relation to work, after listening, I decided to take my daughter for a walk to see what was going on – in hindsight this probably wasn't the best idea.
I walked to the college from Belstead Hills which is a fairly hefty journey. In those days we used to keep animals at the college – so I felt obliged to go in and feed them.
Along the way, the debris I saw included fallen trees and you could see fence panels everywhere - it was carnage.
Mark Gillingham, Suffolk New College
• 'I was on call with the fire service all night'
Was on duty at Bethel Street Fire Station, had the first call to a car into a tree on Bluebell Road about 8.30pm and hardly saw the station again until way after 10 the following morning.
Chris Carter, Norwich
• 'My dad couldn't get home'
I remember a tree coming down on Aylsham road near the bowling greens we were up at 3.30 in the morning my father went to work for Norwich city council and didn't get home till after 11pm at night.
Philip Vincent, Norfolk
• 'I was petrified'
I remember biking to work at Leiston Middle School with the wind howling around me and trees blown down. When I managed to get there, the road outside of the school was like a river and the water had got inside. I was petrified.
• 'Such silence the next morning'
The thing I remember most was the silence of the following morning. We drove down Thunder Lane avoiding the various trees that had been blown down.
John Dye, Norwich
• 'Our house was shaking from the speed of the winds'
I was 13 at the time and remember getting up to see the carnage on TV, and our house was shaking from the speed of the winds. But, being the son of two teachers, I had to get into my uniform and head to school with my brother. When we were going down Overstrand Road in Cromer, the wind was so strong at times that we could not move forwards. We eventually made it to Cromer High. It was closed. So, we walked home – with some serious wind assistance.
Steven Downes, editor specialist at Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News
• 'There was an almighty crash'
On the morning of the storm I went into the garden with my dog, we walked back inside and there was an almighty crash. Mum and I looked out of the window to see the chimney had crashed down on to the garden table and chairs, literally where my dog and I had been just seconds before.
Julie Earrye, owner of Rosie's Domestic Cleaning
• 'I cried at all the fallen trees'
I drove up Earlham Road on way to UEA and cried at all the fallen trees.
Helen Dorday, Norfolk
• 'As I approached I was confronted by trees across the road'
I was living in Dedham. I woke and realised there was no electricity but put that down to the fact I was living in an old cottage. I went out to my car and was shocked to see that I couldn't go anywhere as I was surrounded by fallen trees.
I walked to work where I was the general manager of a hotel, and as I approached I was confronted by trees across the road. I had no choice but to crawl under them. It suddenly dawned on me that if they collapsed, no one would know I was there.
Jenny Milson, deputy principal at One sixth form centre
• 'Quite exhilarating' I recall cycling to work through it. It was quite exhilarating for the young, first-proper-job me.
App Lex, Norfolk
• 'Trees from our property had caused chaos'
As a wide-eyed eight-year-old, I remember the whistling of the wind and the occasional crack of the Scots pines that surrounded our old Felixstowe home. We were lucky - trees from our property had caused chaos with at least three of our neighbours. I remember going for a walk shortly afterwards and being amazed by the devastation.
Dave Wade-Smith, manager at Star Bars
• 'What an experience'
I woke up at 4am to get ready to go pick my lorry up and deliver to Ipswich beet factory. It sounded like someone was running a jet engine outside. My boss and I spent almost four hours trying to get from Peasenhall to Friston Hall. When we finally made it, we couldn't get to our lorries as every other tree was down along their drive.
Dean Hendricks, warehouse manager
• 'Luckily, we had brought the rabbits in'
I lived on the corner of Annbrook Road so I remember the storm in 1987 well. I was only eight but my younger sisters and I all ended up in my parents' bed. There was lots of noise coming from the loft, we lost a few fence panels and our shed fell over. Luckily, we had brought the rabbits in that night.
Suzi Sparrow, Riversbrook Veterinary Group
• 'Our neighbour's oak tree had fallen into our back garden'
I was 13 and woke up in the middle of night to the sound of smashing glass, I thought it was a milk bottle but it turned out to be someone's greenhouse. In the morning, I was in the bath and heard my mum scream downstairs to find that our neighbour's oak tree had fallen into our back garden and just missed the house.
• 'It was a right panic'
I was staying with my parents, having just finished university. My Dad had just planted a wood at the bottom of his garden and woke me up at about six in the morning, he was telling me to help stabilise the trees by tying ropes to pegs in the ground to stop them blowing over. It was a right panic but I recall that we managed to save nearly all of the trees.
Andy Moss, civil engineering lecturer at Suffolk New College
• 'It was a night I will never forget'
I was working for the AA all night during the storm. It was horrendous, and getting home in the morning was terrible too. It was a night I will never forget.
Sue Tibbles, scanning assistant at Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils
• 'The wind was horrendous'
I was 11 and lived on Severn Road in Bury St Edmunds. I actually watched Michael Fish on the weather the night before say that a woman had phoned in to say there was a hurricane coming, but there was nothing to worry about. The next morning, the wind was horrendous, tiles were falling off our roof and the hedge in our front garden was being rocked violently. But I think we were quite excited to have the day off school.
Lisa Christie, house clearance supervisor
• 'It was the first time I had seen the dock stormy'
I was 16 and worked on the Lowestoft inshore trawlers at the time and was landing fish in Hamilton Dock. It was the first time I had seen the dock stormy. A few boats lost moorings during the storm, including ours which was an 80ft steel-hulled trawler that was threatening to smash into the smaller wooden-hulled boats. We were only held by one mooring line so we shimmied across the line to start the engine to save the other boats.
• The Great Storm of 87 wasn't a hurricane, it was a depression. Depressions include cloudy, rainy, and windy weather that are caused by low atmospheric pressure.
• Across the south-eastern part of the country, winds were recorded at an average of 50mph, with the strongest winds being recorded in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, reaching 115mph. However, throughout Suffolk and Norfolk, the gusts of wind were hitting up to and between 70-80mph.
• Michael Fish, the longest-serving weatherman in the UK before his retirement in 2004, gained an infamous reputation while reporting the weather on the BBC. During his lunchtime broadcast on October 15 1987, hours before the storm hit, he said: 'Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she'd heard was a hurricane on the way. Well if you are watching, don't worry, there isn't…'
• People across the country went to sleep the night before, unknowing that they would be met with extremely harsh winds overnight.
• In total, the number of trees to be blown down due to the strong winds across the UK was around 15 million, which caused a lot of disruption to transport due to the trees on the roads and railways. As well as this, thousands of homes were left without power after wind and trees had damaged telephone and electricity lines.
• Due to the scrutiny that the Met Office received for its coverage of the development of the Storm of 87, improvements to the coverage of the atmosphere over the ocean were made – these include the improvements to the quality and quantity of surveillance from ships, aircrafts, buoys and satellites – which allow us to retain more accurate readings of the weather. After the storm, the government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, funded the Met Office to set up the Severe Weather Warnings.
• The storm is considered a one-in-200-year occurrence. The last storm that caused such an impact dates back to 1703 where, across the UK, there were between 8,000 and 15,000 deaths during the extra-tropical cyclone that spanned over a week.
• The Great Storm of 87 caused incredibly varied temperatures across the country, between Dorset and Norfolk there were recordings showing hourly increases of six degrees Celsius.
• Across the duration of the storm, a total of 22 lives were lost. In the UK, 18 people lost there lives, and four others were killed by the storm in France.
• The Great Storm of 87 was described as the 'Worst, most widespread night of disaster' since the Blitz by Douglas Hurd, who was the Home Secretary at the time.
• The National Trust believes they lost around three-quarters-of-a-million trees during the storm.