Cold comfort Britain as gales cut power

Tens of thousands of people endured a Christmas without electricity after gale-force winds lashed the country, bringing down power lines. As Kathy Marks reports, engineers battled against time to restore supplies before storms struck again.

For householders dependent on electricity, it was a truly miserable day. No heating, no lights, no television, and no way of cooking the Christmas turkey.

North Wales, north-west England and Ireland took the worst battering from winds which gusted to 90mph, leaving a trail of devastation. Three people died in the storms, which swept in from the Atlantic late on Christmas Eve, ripping tiles from roofs and causing havoc on the roads.

The electricity companies called in all their emergency staff, but more than 20,000 homes remained blacked out yesterday afternoon. Scores of roads and railway lines around the country were blocked by fallen trees and chunks of masonry. As clean-up operations began in the North, high winds moved into southern and western England.

During the overnight storms, police in Merseyside received thousands of emergency calls and one council on the Wirral peninsula, where falling trees caused two serious road accidents, declared a local emergency.

In one accident, a 32-year-old woman from Stoke-on-Trent, who was visiting friends in the Wirral, was killed when a tree crushed her car. Another woman died and her passenger was injured in a collision with another vehicle in the Penny Lane area of Liverpool. In the Irish Republic, a man died and his brother was injured in County Kerry when a wall collapsed, trapping them under rubble.

On the M53 motorway in the Wirral, an ambulance carrying a kidney to hospital for a transplant was involved in a 10- vehicle pile-up after a tree fell on to the carriageway. Four people were injured. Inspector Colin Davidson, of Merseyside Police, said it was "like the Wild West" in the area at the height of the storm.

Hundreds of trees and lampposts were flattened across Wales, Lancashire, Cumbria, Derbyshire and County Durham. The old Severn bridge at Avonmouth was closed, as was the QEII bridge near Dartford, which links Kent and Essex. Part of the A66 was shut after two lorries were overturned by the winds.

In Nottinghamshire, 30 families were moved from their homes after a boilerhouse chimney began leaning in 70mph gusts. In Cardiff, a man died after climbing on to a bridge and falling into the River Taff.

Some 120,000 homes were blacked out in the Irish Republic, where residents also had to contend with the loss of cable television.

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