St Jude's Day Storm: Four dead after 99mph winds and night of destruction – but at least we saw it coming

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Four died and thousands are still without power, but the Met Office says the forecasts show how much weather predictions have improved compared with 26 years ago

Tens of thousands of homes were still without power yesterday evening after hurricane-force winds claimed four lives as they tore through southern Britain.

Click here or on 'view gallery' to see more images

As authorities continue to clear debris and fallen trees and engineers work to restore power, rail commuters are being warned to check with operators for up-to-date information, with National Rail saying it was not yet able to say how services will be affected today.

The St Jude’s Day Storm – one of the worst in decades – wreaked havoc with transport and power networks, with winds peaking at 99mph on the Isle of Wight.  The victims included Bethany Freeman, a 17-year-old girl who was crushed as a tree fell on the static home where she was sleeping in Hever, near Edenbridge, Kent.

A “loving husband” and father-of-three, Donal Drohan, 51, originally from Waterford, Ireland, also died after his car was hit by a tree at the River Colne bridge in Watford.

Two others, a man in his forties and a woman were also killed, when they were trapped under rubble after an uprooted tree caused a gas blast in Hounslow, west London.

During the morning, winds approaching 100mph swept through the South-west, South, South-east, the Midlands and the East of England after first hitting land in the early hours.

The storm, dubbed St Jude after the patron of lost causes, also caused transport disruption on road, rail, air and sea, and power cuts for hundreds of thousands of homes. Flash flooding affected closed several roads. On Monday night, the Environment Agency said four flood warnings and 99 flood alerts were still in place.

The storm, which is now over Scandinavia, will today be replaced with far lighter winds and rain, but dozens of areas in southern England still remain on flood alert, The Environment Agency said.

Despite the flooding problems, The Independent can reveal that hundreds of staff working on Britain’s flood defences are in danger of losing their jobs as the Environment Agency makes about 1,700 staff redundant.

The job losses, which equate to about 15 per cent of the agency’s workforce, will be lost following a review of the organisation that will look at every aspect of its operation.

They put at risk the 3,500 agency staff that are directly responsible for Britain’s flood risk management, which sees them operating, maintaining and replacing an estimated £20bn worth of “ flood risk management” installations – such as the Thames Barrier – as well as providing flood forecasting and warning systems, maintaining maps of areas liable to floods and preparing emergency plans and responding when storms occur.

The job cuts also threaten “operational workers”, many of whom perform a variety of tasks for the Environment Agency, including flood-related ones such as clearing rivers of debris ahead of a big storm.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency pointed out that the Government had earmarked extra money to be spent on infrastructure to protect against storms, but could not rule out redundancies in the flood-related part of the organisation.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Institute, said the cuts could have “widespread consequences for homes and businesses across the country”.

Hitting the mainland in the early hours, yesterday’s storm left 17-year-old Bethany crushed as a 30ft tree fell on the caravan she and her family were living in while renovation work was taking place at their home at Edenbridge in Kent.

Known as “Gia”, she was a was a “universally respected” sixth-form pupil at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School who “had everything to look forward to”, the school said.

There were tragic scenes as her driving instructor arrived at her home in Lydens Lane to pick her up without knowing she had died.

Mr Drohan, from Harrow, west London, was described as being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when his car was struck by a falling tree at Lower High Street. An officer who attended the scene said that a millisecond’s difference would have made for “a different story”.

The Harrow council worker’s family said: “He was the best husband and father anyone could wish for. You couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about him.”

In Hounslow, three houses were completely destroyed and two more damaged by the blast, thought to have been caused by a ruptured gas main.

Officers were called to Bath Road at around 7.30am and at noon they found the male victim’s body at number 47 amid “scenes of devastation”.

An hour and a half later, a woman, yet to be identified,  was found dead at the same property.

Later in the day, the Met Office lifted its amber warning as the heart of the storm blew away from Norfolk and over the North Sea to the Continent.

The Energy Networks Association said 459,000 homes which suffered power cuts across England have had energy restored, but yesterday evening 166,000 were still disconnected.

The port of Dover in Kent had to be shut, train and Tube services were disrupted, more than 130 flights at Heathrow Airport were cancelled and many roads were impassable.

Debris falling on to power lines caused a nuclear power station in Kent to automatically close down both its reactors, leaving its own diesel generators to provide power for essential safety systems.

A Met Office spokeswoman Laura Young warned that blustery conditions were expected to remain in London and the East Midlands.

She said: “Although the amber warning is over, there are still strong winds and the impacts from earlier in the day are still around. People need to stay aware, keep an eye on the forecast and remain alert to the situation.”

Experts said that, while the gales were relatively weak compared with the Great Storm of 1987, the forecasts had shown how much weather predictions have improved compared with 26 years ago.

Video: Storms hit Sydney

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine