St Jude’s Storm Batters Britain Bringing Hurricane-force Winds And Travel Chaos

storm

Storm-force winds gusting up to 99mph have battered southern parts of the UK, bringing death, widespread travel disruption, flooding and power cuts.

A man and a woman were found dead at a house in Hounslow following a suspected gas explosion on Monday morning, Scotland Yard said. A 17-year-old girl died after a tree fell on to her static caravan at Hever in Kent, and a man in his 50s from Harrow, north London, died after a tree fell on his car in Watford. A 14-year-old boy was feared dead after being swept out to sea at Newhaven, East Sussex.

The intense storm, one of the worst to hit Britain for a decade, swept in overnight, causing a chaotic start to the working week, leaving roads impassable because of fallen trees and disrupting rush-hour rail services.

The Met Office lifted its amber warning as the heart of the storm blew out into the North Sea towards the Netherlands, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. During the morning it had swept through the south-west, south, south-east, the Midlands and the east of England after first making landfall in the early hours.

UK Power Networks said 300,000 homes had been without power at some point. The Energy Networks Association said power had been restored to 30,000.

Most rail companies in the south of England suspended early morning services, with many trains not running until well after 9am so that Network Rail staff could check the tracks were safe. Greater Anglia said it would not be running any trains until midday and could not provide alternative road transport. The west coast, east coast and Midland mainlines were all blocked at their southern ends, while services into London south of the Thames were gradually resumed, albeit with emergency and restricted timetables.

About 130 flights were cancelled at Heathrow airport, and the port of Dover was closed for nearly three hours.

Fallen trees block a railway line at Keymer, West Sussex

Fallen trees block a railway line at Keymer, West Sussex.

The Environment Agency has issued 17 flood warnings, 15 in the south-west, and 141 flood alerts for the rest of England and Wales.

David Cameron said the loss of life was “hugely regrettable”. The prime minister said the government was working to make sure that the emergency services were able to do as much as possible to provide assistance.

On a visit to the Mini plant in Oxford, he said: “We have to make sure the emergency services can act as fast as they can to help people.”

Police in Kent said a 17-year-old girl died after a tree crashed on to her home at Hever, near Edenbridge in Kent, at around 7.20am. She was taken from the scene by ambulance but despite the efforts of paramedics was pronounced dead.

The girl was named locally as Bethany Freeman, whose nickname was Gia. The tree, estimated to be about 30ft tall, could be seen from the roadside, lying across the static home. Another caravan stood beside the one that was crushed, as police stood guard outside the rural property. It emerged that neighbours came forward with chainsaws to help free the girl.

One neighbour, who declined to be named, said: “[The family] were planning to join up their two buildings, and they were living in the caravans in order to do it. They had been living there for one-and-a-half years, but I don’t know how many of them there are.

Hever

The scene of the girl’s death in Hever.

“She was in one caravan, and mum was in another caravan. I don’t know who else was there. At the end of the day the tree has come down. I won’t criticise anyone working there but not one of the emergency services had a chainsaw. It came down to the locals having chainsaws in order to cut a gap and also the local farmer having lifting gear.”

A 14-year-old boy feared dead after being swept into the sea in rough weather has been named by sources as Dylan Alkins. The teenager disappeared while playing in the surf at West Beach in Newhaven at about 4.15pm on Sunday.

Rescue teams, including a coastguard helicopter and an RNLI lifeboat, scoured the area in what were described as “atrocious conditions”.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the operation had now become one of search and recovery. A spokeswoman said rescue teams had struggled in difficult conditions and that police were with the boy’s family, who were distraught.

The Met Office said the wind reached more than 99mph on the Isle of Wight at 5am. The storm, named St Jude after the feast day of the patron saint of lost causes, hit the south-west late on Sunday night before tracking north-east across England and southern Wales in the early morning. Southern counties bore the brunt around dawn and the storm then crossed East Anglia, with some damaging gusts of between 60 to 80mph.

In Kent, the Dungeness nuclear power station partially shut down after the storm caused power cuts, said EDF Energy.

In a statement on its website, EDF said two units at the plant shut down at 7.44am. “The shutdown was weather-related. The plant reacted as it should and shut down safely,” a spokeswoman said.

On the roads, both Severn bridges, the Queen Elizabeth II bridge on the M25 and the A249 Sheppey crossing in Kent were closed.

The M11 was closed southbound near Harlow, in Essex, by an overturned lorry and there was congestion around the Blackwall tunnel in London because of fallen scaffolding.

There were also widespread reports of local roads in Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex blocked or closed as a result of fallen trees and flash flooding. In Suffolk the driver and several passengers were injured when a double-decker bus was blown over near Hadleigh.

A police car was damaged by a falling tree on the B2104 in Sussex, officers said, and a vehicle hit a fallen tree in Langney Rise, Eastbourne. The driver was uninjured, police said.

By 6.30am there were reports of 125 trees down across Sussex, while Kent police said 70 trees had come down in the county. Police in Hampshire warned motorists not to travel unless necessary.

Whitehall in central London was closed due to a collapsed crane near the Cabinet Office. Staff were evacuated and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, had to cancel a press conference.

A collapsed crane on the roof of the Cabinet Office on Whitehall, central London

A collapsed crane on the roof of the Cabinet Office on Whitehall, central London.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in south-west London was closed because of damage caused by the weather. A spokeswoman said: “Early indications are that we have lost between 10 and 15 mature trees, and a number of others have suffered loss of limbs or smaller branches.”

Forty homes were evacuated in Reading, Berkshire, after a fallen tree caused a gas leak.

Train companies in the south were running either amended services or no service at all before 9am. Southeastern, South West Trains, Southern and Greater Anglia were all telling commuters to check before trying to travel and warning there would be amended timetables and significant disruption.

There were no trains between Peterborough and London King’s Cross on the east coast mainline and services to Euston and St Pancras were also at a standstill.

Several hundred Network Rail staff worked through the night to deal with disruption caused by the severe weather, with more than 100 trees reported to have fallen onto tracks.

Special trains were used to clear tracks, the director of operations, Robin Gisby, said. “In four cases the train being sent through to inspect the line has hit a fallen tree and we have one train in Devon which is currently disabled following a collision with a fallen tree. We are also dealing with a landslip in the New Forest area.

“While conditions were as forecast during the early part of the morning, the damage caused by the storm has been more severe than expected as it has tracked eastwards to the north of London and across to East Anglia.

“As a result, the west coast, east coast and Midland mainlines are all currently blocked at their southern ends as a result of fallen trees and damage to power lines and all services are currently suspended on the Anglia route, where the storm is currently.”

On the London Underground, only three lines – Victoria, Hammersmith & City and Waterloo & City – were operating normally through the morning rush hour.

Collapsed scaffolding in Leyton, east London.

Collapsed scaffolding blocks a road in Leyton, east London.

There were no trains at all on the Overground, while the Bakerloo, Central, District, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern and Piccadilly lines were all partially closed while workers removed fallen trees and other obstructions.

Severe disruption was reported at London City, Stansted and Gatwick airports. Gatwick Express and Stansted Express rail services were not running.

Ferry journeys were also being disrupted, with P&O Condor, DFDS Seaways and Hovertravel all reporting cancellations.

Sussex police again warned people not to play on the seafront. Superintendent Grenville Wilson said: “At 3.30am, I was watching people on CCTV on Brighton beach dancing around at the waves’ edge, occasionally being overtaken by the advancing water. One slip and they could have found themselves in real danger, along with the people who would try to rescue them.

“We witnessed the tragic power of the sea at Newhaven yesterday and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young lad who is sadly still missing. I don’t want to see that repeated.”

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