View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday 11 January

Another fairly bright and coolish day out here in the Western Isles. The Beast from the East is threatening snow to the east coast, but out here in the west we won't be as severely affected. In the Castle Grounds, they are doing a lot of maintenance, and burning off the debris. Quite visible from my position.


Apart from the five lost in the hurricane of 2005, the turn of the year also marks the death of a young merchant navy cadet in 2008, who disappeared following a Boxing Day dance at Daliburgh. He was let off a minibus, but ended up dead in nearby Loch Bi - only a few miles from where the family of five perished in '05. In December, it was the 8th anniversary of the grounding of a fishing boat at Arnish Point. Its autopilot had gone wrong, steering it straight into the cliffs below the lighthouse - but nobody had been on watch. The skipper died after helping his crew to escape the sinking boat.

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Eight years ago

High winds, gusting up to 134 mph, lashed the Western Isles this day in 2005. The winds claimed the lives of five members of one family in South Uist. They had fled their storm battered home at Liniquie, only for their car to be swamped and carried off by the sea on a causeway. At the time, I was staying in Kershader, 20 miles south of Stornoway (by road). These are my diary entries from the time. 

11 January 2005
Gales forecast for today, so decided not to go out for walk. Could have done, in retrospect. The sun was out at 3pm, but then all hell broke loose. Alarming reports on Radio Scotland, no ferry, the Isle of Lewis did not leave Ullapool after the early sailing and Western Isles Council has closed libraries, schools for tomorrow. Calmac has cancelled sailings on ALL its routes. At 5.20pm the power went off. It's off in Uig (Lewis) and all of Lochs. There is no signal on the entire FM-band; the transmitter at Eitsal is off. Isles FM is still going as this has a separate transmitter in Stornoway. Power briefly came back at 6.23, but didn't last. Blue lights at Laxay, apparently police telling people to abandon their car journeys. Bins flying about at the back; I'll be retrieving them from the loch shore in a few days time. Isles FM keeps me posted with my battery powered radio. Radio Scotland on 810 kHz mediumwave reverts to football. What a night! Oh there was no TV signal either, when the power came back at 6.23. Pity it's dark. Before dusk, the caps on the waves were sheered off by the wind, at 4.15. People are being advised to stay in. Scaffolding on a site at South Beach Street in Stornoway has collapsed through the window of a restaurant across Kenneth Street. The A859 in Stornoway is shut  between Newvalley and the Manor Roundabout. Only light indoors is from the emergency lights and my own little torch, by which I write this account. Storm rampages through every nook and cranny. All sorts of meetings are being cancelled. The causeway between North Uist and Benbecula may be closed. The hostel building is shaking in the wind. Skye Bridge closes at 7.15, other bridges in Scotland follow suit. No traffic goes down the A859 - it's pitch dark. Isles FM went off air at 7.32, leaving me with a silent FM band. The transmitter keeps going, but there is no signal from the Newton Street studios. Radio Scotland on mediumwave only has bloody football until 9.30, aaargh! I'm already bored. No lights anywhere, not in the village, not in Laxay across the water either.

12 January
Very disturbed night, with the wind shaking the building. Electricity remains off. Trains, planes, ferries: the lot are cancelled. Shop nextdoor is closed, a rooftile lies in front of the door and one tile has come off the roof of the centre next door. Storm has been rampaging through Stornoway, and high tide led to flooding. Overnight windspeeds: Barra 106 mph, Stornoway 99 mph (steady speed: 62 mph), North Rona (40 miles north of Lewis) 124 mph. Briefly ventured out at 12.30, found the minibus for the centre had lost all its windows on the windward side, blown in. Walked round to the top of the road, then doubled back through the moorland. Encountered Mr McLeod who stopped short of calling me mad for venturing out in this weather. Shower started, which changed to hail, and very strong winds. People are asked not to venture into the Lews Castle grounds, as trees are coming down. Likewise, the Willow Glen road. Caught the shoplady, so have beans and bread. There is no busservice today. There is no mains water in Gravir and Achmore. The Eitsal transmitter is off with stormdamage. The Co-op on Macaulay Road in S'way reopened at 3 after they fixed the roof. The sun comes through at 3.10. Funny, all the water had been blown out of the U-bend in the toilet early this morning. Had to flush in order to fill it up again. Electricity not expected back on until tomorrow evening. At 4.30, Laxay had the electric back on. Found that local supply comes across the loch from there.More than half the island is still without power, so as yet: hanging on in a rather cold hostel. Only one room heated on a gas-heater which smells. Went to bed at 8 - all the emergency lights are out and it's pitchdark. 

13 January
Nice, benign morning, but cold. Remains of wintry showers on the ground. Bus arrived a little after 10. Had previously retrieved the dustbins and their contents (yuk) from the hill behind the hostel. Fair amount of damage along the road to Stornoway. Garage wrecked, trees down by the dozen, trailers overturned and an isolator dangling loose on a powerline. Bins as well - anyone missing their bin? It's sitting in the garden at 6 Back (Isles FM). A row of pinetrees is uprooted in Balallan, some trees have snapped halfway down the stem. Fences are blown over as well. A funeral causes a tailback on the A859 at Laxay, because mourners park on the road. A huge number of trees are blown over in Willow Glen, including the ones that were blocking the road a few days ago. Sandbags outside houses on Bayhead, seaweed on seats at the Bridge. The grounds of Lews Castle are devastated, scores of trees (300-400) blown down, situation remains precarious. Christmas lighting has been smashed all along the harbour front. In the town, repairs are being carried out on Cromwell Street, and on the corner of Kenneth Street and South Beach Street, where the Star restaurant was damaged by flying debris. Two boats lie wrecked on the shore next to the ferryterminal. Owners clamber over boulders to check their state. Weather absolutely perfect - sunny, not a breath of wind and not too cold. Incredible, after the storms. Boat came in for the first time after Tuesday morning. Lots of electricity vans came off. Spoke to a few shopkeepers about their experiences and overheard several people exchanging experiences and showing each other their damage. Nice "warm" and sunny. Had a meal at HS-1, to compensate for not having a hot meal for a few days. Went back on the 2.20 bus. Terrible story of a family of 5, grandparents, parents and kids aged 5 and 7. They had fled their house because of rising floodwaters in two cars. These got swept off the causeway between South Uist and Benbecula, and they all drowned. Eitsal transmitter is still off air. Now a gardenpond has ended up in the wrong garden. Not all schools will reopen in the morning. People are urged to check on elderly or infirm neighbours. Missing your oiltank? It's lying in the loch just as you get into Balallan. Fire at Benbecula Hospital, worsened by an oxygen tank. Visitors are helped to move patients out of the affected ward. On return to Kershader, the power was still off, but it should come back this evening. Can't wait... It's 4.35, and I'm back to writing by torchlight. Have a book with walks and a book with Lewis history to read. Laxay has its lights back on, lucky them. Still, could be worse. Gravir has no water as the pumping station at Garyvard has no power. Eating habits slightly altered. Soaking the porridge overnight. Everyone was plundering a rather empty CO-op of buns and the like, if their power was still off. Western Isles hospital will resume normal service tomorrow, it's been on an emergency footing since Tuesday. Staff stayed in overnight Tuesday/Wednesday on account of weather. New moon in the southwest at 5pm. Not completely dark at 5.30, 85 minutes after sunset (4.06); sun rises at 9.03. Balallan is lit up again - when do we follow? At 5.50, the lights are back on, 48 hours and 30 minutes after going off, leaving that brief spell at 6.23 on Tuesday to one side. Central heating boiler plays up, need to reset it continually. Electrics still seem to wobble. There are apparently still problems at Lemreway, 10 miles down the road. Mysterious flood in kitchen, hot water tank had a lot of water on the floor. The librarian in Stornoway library was blown all over the shop on Tuesday. Still no reception on FM, apart from Isles FM, so no BBC; and no TV reception either. Don't know when that's going to be back. Various bits and pieces on Isles FM, including a song with rude lyrics, which was cut short very quickly by the DJ. Frost expected tonight; busdriver nearly lost his bus on a patch of ice at Orinsay this morning. Power still off in many areas. At 8 o'clock were blacked out briefly. Schools remain closed tomorrow, good week for the kids. Nipped out at 8.30 to watch the stars. Saw the Milky Way and Jupiter in Gemini. Have the hot water and the hot shower back: bliss...