A Mighty Wind
October 15, 2012 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Twenty-five years ago today, southern England and northern France were struck by the Great Storm of 1987. Although the storm did not go entirely unforecast, the exact track and ferocity of the storm were not as predicted, and the resulting devastation killed at least 22 people, and destroyed six of the seven oak trees that are symbolic of the eponymous town of Sevenoaks, in Kent.

I was in college at the time, at the University of Kent at Canterbury. I slept right through the storm itself, but my first inkling that something had happened came when I woke up to the site of fallen leaves on the floor of my dorm room - leaves which had been blown under the door to my room, which, I hasten to add, was not an exterior door.

The power was out, and everyone traipsed over to the college I resided in, Darwin, because it was the only dining hall that was open, and that was primarily because its large expanse of windows afforded it a great deal of natural light, a necessity due to the power outage. Breakfast that morning consisted of fruit, untoasted bread, and cold beverages.

People immediately started referring to it as a hurricane, which, technically, it was not, although the maximum straight-line gusts were of comparable strength to hurricane-force winds.
posted by kcds (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was in Canterbury too (still am actually). My brother had to go to school with one of those big art portfolio folders. He got blown clean across a busy street, across two lanes of traffic. Thankfully he wasn't run over.
posted by iotic at 12:21 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was just outside Canterbury and remember waking up and seeing massive trees on their sides all over the place.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:24 AM on October 15, 2012

Quickly followed by Black Monday and the stock market crash. I was in Spain at the time and I don't really speak Spanish, but it was odd to see the television coverage of what appeared to be a Biblical-scale disaster in the south of England followed by pictures of panicking stockbrokers all around the world - New York, Madrid, London, Bilbao (six guys with a blackboard), Tokyo, Barcelona.

I met a British farmer who after thirty years of continuous work had been prised away by his wife for their first ever foreign holiday. As soon as he left the country his barn was smashed by a falling tree and his savings disappeared in an economic maelstrom. That was a man who was not going on holiday ever again.
posted by Segundus at 1:04 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Can't speak for Northern France, but I lived in southern France at the time, in the Rhone Valley. The Mistral that year was intense. There was a nuclear power plant not far from where we lived (Marcoule) that used water from the Rhone river as part of its cooling cycle. I remember hearing about the preparations they'd taken to make sure Marcoule equipment at the waterside didn't blow into the Rhone. Pretty freaky stuff...
posted by Grrlscout at 1:12 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a clip at the bottom of the page here showing the damage in Brittany (includes Breton speaker!) I was there six months later and it was very far from being cleaned up.
posted by Wolof at 2:33 AM on October 15, 2012

I was living in the countryside of Hertfordshire in 1987 and I still remember that night so clearly.

We got a phone call to say the stable block at my grandparent's house was moving, so my father and I drove over there to investigate. The first time we stopped was when we discovered the twisted wreckage of what had once been a greenhouse in the middle of the road about 1/4 mile from any houses. We threw it in a ditch, tied it (as best we could) to a fence and kept going.

My dad's pickup trick was known for it's long distance 80mph trips round the countryside, and I remember how it struggled to hit 40.

We got to my grandparents house and they were right - the entire stable block (about 60 feet long, 15 feet deep and with an asbestos roof) had moved about 2 feet off its brick plinth. We just looked at it and decided that there was absolutely nothing we could do to stop it moving.

I vaguely remember an apple coming off the fruit tree and flying past my head, but I'm fairly certain that must be my imagination.

We put some acro props inside the stables, bracing one side against the plinth on the other side, warned my grandparents it probably wouldn't help, and headed back for home.

About half way there, there was this cutting, where the road dipped down six feet and went through a wooded bit. We turned the corner and the road just wasn't there. It had vanished. It was like one of those movies where the adventurers walk down a path, turn around, and find the path has gone. We knew the road was there, but it just wasn't visible. About a quarter of a mile of trees had come down in one go, and just filled the road with wood. It took them about 4 days to clear it again.

The detour we had to take took us across farm tracks, and I remember that it was the only time I was actually scared - even though I think the worst had passed by then. The road went over the top of a hill, with nothing for a couple of miles around. No buildings, trees, even hedges - just empty fields. That pickup bucked around like a bloody aeroplane in turbulance. Bloody horrible feeling.

We only caught the edge of it, and were relatively unscathed. We kept power, I think, and we never lost road access to the rest of the world. Most of the plantlife that we lost near us was the trees down the sides of the road where, all too frequently, it looked like someone had tried to make the trees and the road swap locations, but had got bored half way through.

We got through a huge amount of twostroke fuel, and I remember getting pretty blase about being around my father's chainsaw. Half the barb wire fences were attached to (or had been absorbed by) trees, so getting rid of the wood often meant handling logs that were attached to the landscape by metal rope. I had my hands about two feet away from the chain when the blade hit a burried nail and skittered across the wood towards my hands. Never been so glad I was paying attention...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 3:55 AM on October 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

I was in Hove at the time. I remember lying awake that night, and hearing thudding/banging sounds, and realizing at some point that it was debris flying around and bouncing off the roof. Next day, there were trees down everywhere, and all the beach huts on the beach were blown around. Still have some photos somewhere, I'll see if I can dig up and scan over the next few days.
posted by carter at 4:43 AM on October 15, 2012

I remember standing in a South London street with a chainsaw. I also remember the gale.
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:17 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The top rooms of Second Court, St John's College, Cambridge moved around rather a lot. Unreinforced masonry with a rubble core if I recall.
posted by mdoar at 3:07 PM on October 15, 2012

I was living in Tooting, as I still am. I remember being woken up in the night by the most infernal howling, and the sounds of shatterings and collisions. I got up, opened the bedroom curtains and, in my sleepy state, was only mildly surprised to see an approximately 6ft by 8ft section of solid wooden fence fly above my garden at a height of about fifteen feet. "Bloody windy out there", I thought, and went back to bed. The following morning I remember the streets were littered with roof tiles, chunks of felled chimney and window glass. Tooting common looked like a tree battlefield.

Twenty-five years ago? Really? I suppose it was. I was 28. Oh Lord, life goes so fast.
posted by Decani at 1:44 AM on October 16, 2012

My family home was a few miles outside Canterbury, in the Elham Valley. But I wasn't there on the night of the storm, because I was away at university. Mum and Dad's house didn't get power back for a few days. When I came back home for Christmas, the journey home from Canterbury was so strange. I knew the route so well, but everything was different: there were views where there had been no views before, valleys opened up, and in every field, huge old trees down with massive earthbound roots torn from the ground.

Bad though the destruction was, I was sad that I missed the whole thing. Became a habit too: my parents house was across the road from an intermittent river, that had been nothing but a dry ditch in the years we'd lived there. I'd played in it, imagined making rafts and sailing them along. True to form, when a trickle appeared, and then turned into a stream, and then filled the ditch, and then flooded out across the road...I was away then too.
posted by reynir at 12:50 PM on October 16, 2012

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