Raging winds storm across the nation

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The Independent Online
The driver of a car was crushed, roofs were ripped off, power lines torn down and trees uprooted as gales swept across the country. Forecasters warned last night that the worst was yet to come. Clare Garner reports

A motorist was killed last night when a tree was uprooted and blown on to his car in some of the worst gales to hit Britain since the great hurricane of 1987.

The most ferocious weather was in the south-west of England and south Wales, where hurricane-force winds blew at a steady 60-70mph, with gusts up to 115mph. Forecasters warned that there would be no let up in wind speeds as fresh gales were due to sweep in from the north-west today.

The driver of the crushed car was fatally injured when a tree crashed on to his vehicle at Gospel End, Wombourne, Staffordshire just before 6pm. He died at the scene but firefighters worked for more than an hour to free his passenger, a woman, who was being treated at Russell Hall Hospital in Dudley throughout the night. Five more people were treated in hospital after a tree fell on their car at Welland, near Malvern, Worcestershire, and another man was injured when his car was hit by a falling tree in Gillingham, Kent.

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 fallen 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. while a 105mph blast registered on equipment at Portland Bill, Dorset.

Ten fishermen who were stranded aboard their stricken trawler in severe storms 200 miles off the Cornish coast were airlifted to safety 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 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 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 but a spokesman said there had been no lapse in security.

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 on Saturday. A 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.

Hundreds of minor roads were blocked across the country by fallen trees and power lines. The QEII bridge at Dartford and the Old River Severn bridge were closed.