View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 11 January 2010

Five years ago today

11 January 2005 is one of those days that everybody who was in the Outer Hebrides at the time will not forget. A deep Atlantic depression moved past our islands, bringing with it winds of force 12 on the Beaufort scale, with gusts in excess of 130 mph. At the time, I was staying in Kershader, 12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies - more like 22 miles by road. At 6.22pm, the power went off, not to go back on again for 48 hours. The wind was already howling around the building. Blue flashing lights penetrated the darkness from across Loch Erisort - police cars were stopping traffic on the Stornoway to Tarbert road after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver of the South Lochs bus that night was mightily relieved to make it home in one piece, he told me later. Trees were downed, roofs taken off, vehicles crushed under trees - and hundreds of them toppled in the Castle Grounds in Stornoway. High tides lapped at the doors of people on Cromwell Street and Bayhead in the town. Boats were torn off their moorings and smashed into the ferry terminal. Slates became like missiles, and pedestrians blown off their feet. Some who sought refuge were denied entry; others were taken inside.

The next morning dawned breezy and bright. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. That was a bad one, but it's only damage. By 9.20 am however, reports start to emerge from the Southern Isles. Five people are missing in South Uist, after they fled their home the previous evening at around 7pm. Rising tides had started to approach their home, and pebbles were hurled against walls and windows. They enter two cars and drive from their home at Eochdar towards the causeway, linking South Uist and Benbecula. A fatal decision. That road parallels the stretch of sea that separates the two islands. The southeasterly storm, combined with a springtide from the northwest pushed the waters of Loch Bi up; but on account of the floodtide they could not drain into the sea. The loch flooded a small causeway, sweeping the cars into the water. By morning, the five missing people are found dead. They include a mother and father with two young children and a grandfather.

A notice in the Stornoway Gazette of last week commemorated their loss. This entry is in their memory too.

Monday 11 January

As I start this post, the sun is setting. We have now gained half an hour of daylight since the solstice on December 21st. Docked alongside pier no 3 is MV Aasvik, which is delivering more than 4,000 tonnes of roadsalt, to replenish stocks which had run out completely a few days ago. Thaw has arrived in these islands over the weekend, and is likely to persist. Not that the 5C feels very warm at present, with a strong southeasterly breeze. My camera has decided to stop being reliable, and is going on the blink every now and again. Another repair will be required soon, sigh.

Northern Ireland has seen another dose of political turmoil, this time surrounding the province's First Minister. Peter Robinson has announced he is stepping aside for 6 weeks to allow the dust to settle over the rumpus over his wife's affair with a teenager, 40 years younger than herself. She had given him money, but failed to declare it in the register of members' interests - Mrs Robinson is a Member of Parliament at Westminster. Why am I hearing the strains of Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson in my mind?