The day Britain took a battering

Global warming is blamed after 3 die in UK's worst storm for a decade
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The Independent Online

Britain's worst storm for 10 years brought much of the country to a standstill yesterday as 90mph winds left at least three people dead, plunged road and rail networks into chaos and caused hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage.

Britain's worst storm for 10 years brought much of the country to a standstill yesterday as 90mph winds left at least three people dead, plunged road and rail networks into chaos and caused hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage.

Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, said climate change was "almost certainly" a contributory cause.

Archie Robertson, head of operations at the Environment Agency, which was holding the line yesterday against the widespread flooding that the storm threatened, agreed with Mr Meacher, saying: "We are seeing increasing evidence that climate change may be impacting on our environment." The Meteorological Office said that although the storm could not be directly attributed to climate change, it was "consistent with climate change predictions".

The deluge was part of a pattern of extreme weather "events" which is beginning to develop in Britain, Mr Meacher said. Extreme events are predicted by computer models of the climate as one of the likeliest consequences of global warming; and the violence of the gales and torrential rain which hit southern England and parts of Wales early yesterday was certainly extreme.

It disrupted transport even more than in the Great Storm of 1987, knocking out main rail routes and motorways, plunging at least 400,000 homes into darkness as power lines came down, and leaving dozens of locations on high flood alert.

It was accompanied by a tornado which ripped through Selsey in West Sussex tossing caravans into the air - less than 48 hours after a similar twister devastated parts of nearby Bognor Regis.

The storm was an Atlantic depression which formed on Saturday west of Ireland, and swept towards Britain, abnormal in its force. Its winds, which peaked at 97mph at The Mumbles headland near Swansea, were slightly less fierce than those of the 1987 storm and the "Burns Night" storm of 1990, both of which exceeded 100mph, but its barometric pressure dropped to 951 millibars, the deepest low recorded in Britain in October, deeper even than the Great Storm's depression of 13 years ago. The storm brought more than 80mm (just over 3ins) of rain in 24 hours.

Its effect on transport was unprecedented. No fewer than 13 train operating companies cancelled most of their services, with many of London's main stations closed for the day. Callers to the national rail inquiry service were met with a recorded message referring them to an internet website, and only a trickle of services managed to reach the capital during the morning. Services began again later, but travellers are asked to seek information before setting out today.

On the roads, many stretches of motorway were closed and huge traffic jams built up on all the major routes, including the M1, M3, M4 and M25. Hundreds of other roads were blocked by flooding and debris, and at one stage the Automobile Association was taking more than 2,000 calls an hour, twice as many as usual.

More than 6,000 cross-channel ferry passengers were stranded for up to 20 hours off the Kent coast after the port of Dover was closed at the height of the gale, forcing six ferries had to take shelter in a natural harbour near by. More than a hundred flights from Heathrow and Gatwick airports were cancelled because of hazardous take-off conditions caused by the wind. The situation was made worse because many flight crew were unable to get to the airports.

The three people who died in the storm were a motorocyclist who crashed into a tree near Taunton, Somerset, a person whose car was crushed by a falling tree on the A3, near Hindhead, Surrey, and a man in south London whose car hit surface water and skidded into a parked car and then a bus.

Several London tourist attractions were closed, including Kew Gardens, where trees were believed to be unsafe, and the Millennium Wheel, where winds damaged glass on six of its 32 capsules.

Although the South was worst hit, areas further north did not escape the deluge. Flood warnings were issued for the rivers Derwent, Dove, Sence, Soar, Trent and Wreake, while blizzards and floods brought rush-hour misery to parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

Mr Meacher said yesterday: "It would be wrong, every time there is a climatic impact, toassume that it is climate change, global warming, but it is a pattern which is beginning to develop." The gales "almost certainly have climate change as a contributory cause", he said.