Title picture: Cloudscapes, Stornoway, 1 February 2017

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

January 2005 storm - in memoriam

On Tuesday 11 January 2005, we were about to experience the worst storms in 50 years. At 3pm, exactly as forecast, the wind whipped up to hurricane force. Powerlines went down all over the island, leaving people without electricity for anything between a few hours and up to 6 days. Property damage was widespread and severe.

Staying in South Lochs at the time, I lost power at 6.20 that evening, not to get it back for 48 hours. From the darkness, I could see blue flashing lights across Loch Erisort. Later, it became clear that this was the police, closing the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road. A lorry driver had reported as sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver on the last bus into South Lochs had a terrifying time keeping his vehicle on the straight and narrow.

By 6pm, people in Stornoway were physically blown off their feet. Some sustained injuries as a result. Trees in the Castle Grounds were falling like match sticks, boats were ripped off their moorings and tossed onto the harbour wall at the Newton Basin. Flooding affected the town centre.
Down in the Southern Isles, a family of five found their home in Iochdar, South Uist, being pounded by pebbles and flying spray from the nearby sea. A flurry of phonecalls arranged a move across the causeway into Benbecula. Two cars would carry the grandfather, two parents and two young children across the few miles.

Dawn broke at 9 o’clock. The islanders, from Barra to Lewis, were mentioning that it had been a particularly nasty one, and people were comparing notes what damage everyone had sustained. A phonecall disturbed the sense of relief. People were reported missing in South Uist. A search party started combing the South Ford, which separates Benbecula from South Uist. The bodies of five people were found in the course of the next few days. They were those of a grandfather, two parents and their young children.

The funeral service, a few days later, was attended by 1,500 people, one out of every three islanders in the Southern Isles. Only 500 could actually enter the church, the rest followed the service outside, as it was relayed through loudspeakers.

Total damage was estimated to be worth £15 million, including severe storm damage to the causeway system stretching from Berneray to Eriskay. Repairs are only now being carried out.

This post is dedicated to the memory of those lost in the Iochdar tragedy.

(Annual repost)