The Great Storm of 1987: 30 years on from the event which brought destruction to Norfolk and Suffolk

October 1987 storms. Pictured: Kevin Last and his dog, Lady, survey the wrecked garage with his fath

October 1987 storms. Pictured: Kevin Last and his dog, Lady, survey the wrecked garage with his father's flattened car and four motor cycles. - Credit: Archant

When people in this region went to bed on the night of October 15 1987, they had no idea that the worst storm in nearly 300 years would cause devastation.

Yarmouth gale damage University Crescent Brenda Edwards conservatory 16 oct 1987
L0163

Yarmouth gale damage University Crescent Brenda Edwards conservatory 16 oct 1987 L0163 - Credit: Archant

The Great Storm, as it would become known, battered southern and eastern England with gusts of between 70 to 80mph, causing destruction and changing lives.

Across the UK the once-in-200 year storm killed 18 people including west Norfolk farmer Sidney Riches.

Mr Riches died in a collision on the A10 in Tottenhill, near King's Lynn, where it was partly blocked by a fallen tree.

Houses were destroyed and landscapes were changed - with 15 million trees were blown down.

Alan Norman's photos of the aftermath of the October 1987 storm around Norwich.

Alan Norman's photos of the aftermath of the October 1987 storm around Norwich. - Credit: Alan Norman


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MORE - When the wind blows - remembering the Great Storm of 1987George Debbage, former head gardener at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, South Walsham, said: '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.

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'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.'

Alan Norman's photos of the aftermath of the October 1987 storm around Norwich.

Alan Norman's photos of the aftermath of the October 1987 storm around Norwich. - Credit: Alan Norman

One of the most infamous moments from the storm 30 years ago came from former BBC weather presenter Michael Fish.

He assured viewers during the day that reports of a potential hurricane were unfounded.

'Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way,' Mr Fish told viewers.

'Well if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't.'

Newmarket Road, close to the junction with Eaton Road and Brankstone Road after the Great Storm in 1

Newmarket Road, close to the junction with Eaton Road and Brankstone Road after the Great Storm in 1987. Photo: Dave Hodkinson - Credit: Dave Hodkinson

He then goes on to say that 'actually, the weather will become very windy.'

Crane operator remembers rig drama

Weekend Storm at Diss october 1987

Weekend Storm at Diss october 1987 - Credit: Archant

John Cullum was a 35-year-old crane operator in the Southern North Sea working for Zapata Drilling on a jack up rig.

Mr Cullum, who now runs Great Yarmouth-based Shamrock Motor Co Ltd, said: 'When the storm hit we were told a semi-submersible rig had broken its moorings and was on a collision course for our rig.

'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 slight panic set in.

'We all had to put on abandon suits and wait. The chopper did eventually land, we had to crawl across the heli-deck net on hands and knees, while the chopper sat with rotors running, being lifted up and down by the wind.

'We were evacuated to a Phillips gas platform, where we watched the stricken rig pass by within around 500 meters of our rig. It really did break the 12 hour shift up.'

Although the highest wind gust, measured in Shoreham-by-sea, reached 115mph, the storm was not designated as a hurricane because it did not originate in the tropics.

In Norfolk many schools suffered damage, including Oriel High in Gorleston, St Mary's Catholic School in Yarmouth, Acle Primary and Blackdale Middle School in Norwich.

The storm left a repair bill of around £2bn and improvements were made to weather forecasting.

'We were not anticipating it being quite as bad'

The night of the October 1987 storm was a shift retired weather forecaster Peter Collins will never forget.

Now 70, Mr Collins, of Ormesby, was working as a forecaster for the Royal Air Force at Coltishall on October 16 on the overnight shift.

He said: 'For days we had known something was happening - for three days before the computers had shown a deep low coming across the south-east. However, the day before, the computers stopped showing it. We knew there would still be winds and had put a gale warning in place, but we were not anticipating it being quite as bad as at was.'

Mr Collins, who was scheduled to work between 10pm and 9am, said power failures made it difficult to keep tabs on forecasts throughout the night.

He added: 'It was quite obvious there was also severe weather in France, but we did not know exactly what.'

Conditions meant he was unable to get home until after noon the next day.

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