Raging winds storm across the nation

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The Independent Online
Winds ripped off rooftops, tore down powerlines, uprooted trees and flooded homes, as gales swept across the country. Forecasters warned last night that the worst was yet to come. Clare Garner reports

The most ferocious weather was in the south-west of England and south Wales, where winds last night continued to blow at a steady 60-70mph, with gusts up to 100mph. Forecasters warned that the gales, some of the worst since the 1987 hurricane, would not let up, but rather would be hitting the area with a vengeance.

More than 85,000 homes from Cornwall to Bristol and 50,000 homes across south Wales were left without power, and people in south-coast resorts barricaded themselves inside their homes as waves of up to 40ft lashed over sea defences. Ferry companies cancelled cross-Channel sailings and many roads were blocked by falling trees, broken road signs and other debris.

There was widespread structural damage from Devon to the Midlands, landing insurance companies with thousands of New Year claims. In Scotland, there was an avalanche warning in mountains around Glencoe after heavy snowfalls throughout the day. Great Western trains cancelled all services across south Wales.

The AA doubled the number of patrols on overnight duty to 2,800 and advised people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. In Northern Ireland, lorries were stuck in snow as the Province was hit by yet more stormy weather.

At the height of the storms a gust of 115mph was recorded at Mumbles near Swansea. Coastguards said they had never experienced anything like the strength of the winds. A 110mph wind was recorded by Devon county council weather equipment on Dartmoor.

Ten fishermen who were stranded aboard their stricken trawler in severe storms 200 miles off the Cornish coast were airlifted to safety in a dramatic rescue last night. The men - nine Spaniards and an Irishman - were winched aboard a Sea King helicopter after their ordeal in 40ft waves. The crew was on board the Sonia Nancy when the trawler's engine failed. They were being towed to safety when a tow-rope connecting them to another trawler snapped.

In Bournemouth, Dorset, the roof of Boscombe Pier was blown into the sea and scores of beach huts along the Promenade were damaged. More than 50 students had to be evacuated from Cranborne House, a high-rise accommodation block in the town, after its roof was blown off.

Further along the South Coast the prison ship HMP Weare, moored in Portland Harbour, suffered minor storm damage to its roof. A Dorset police spokesman said: "Some damage was caused to the prison ship roof but no inmates were evacuated and there was no security risk."

An 83-year-old woman last night remained "critically ill" in hospital after being struck by a large parasol ripped from a flower stall by a violent gust in Cardiff city centre on Saturday. A high-speed ferry, sailing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, was damaged when high winds blew off part of its aerodynamic bows. None of the 900 passengers was injured, but about 50 cars were slightly damaged as the Stena Discovery came into port.

Hundreds of minor roads were blocked across the country by fallen trees and power lines, but police reported few accidents as most people stayed at home. The QEII bridge at Dartford and the Old River Severn bridge were closed to all traffic. Cars parked on Worthing seafront were left with smashed windscreens as shingle was flung from the sea.

In Nottinghamshire, 40 rescued owls were swept away by gale-force winds which wrecked their aviary at the Hawksrest Owl Sanctuary in Bawtry.

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