Storm toll reaches 14 as gales gust up to 98mph: Nurse dies after metal shop sign hits her, but botanical gardens at Kew escape worst of widespread damage. Stephen Ward reports

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The Independent Online
A NIGHT of gales across large parts of Britain and Ireland left 14 people dead and widespread damage yesterday. Although the scale of the destruction was less than that in the Great Storm of October 1987, the toll approached the 17 who died then.

Many of the deaths were on roads made treacherous by driving rain and branches and other debris scattered by the winds. A nurse was killed by a falling shop sign and a 76-year-old man died when he was blown against his greenhouse.

Trees were less ravaged than in 1987, partly because the wind was less strong but also because it came two months later in the year when trees are stronger. Trees were abnormally weak five years ago after a dry summer.

Kew Gardens, devastated in 1987 when it lost 500 trees, lost only one birch. But almost 100 trees were uprooted in Westonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, a 600-acre park. Staff sighed with relief yesterday as it became clear that the devastation was not as widespread as feared, nor as in a gale in January 1990. The casualties this time included a 300-year-old oak, the oldest tree in the park, and a 113ft beech, one of the tallest.

The 15-strong crew of a sinking ship, the Grape One, was rescued by helicopter and taken to Plymouth after rough seas and wind caused the cargo to shift. The vessel was a Maltese-registered cargo ship.

Eifiona Jones, 64, a widow of Llys Perlysiau, Criccieth, Gwynedd, was found dead by a footpath after apparently falling during the storm.

A nurse, Frances Donahue, 31, was killed when a large metal and perspex sign flew off a fashion wholesale shop and hit her as she walked in a street in north London. A close friend, Shelly Machin, said Ms Donahue ran a day-care team looking after elderly patients at Barnes Hospital and sang Irish folk music in north London pubs in the evening. 'She was a brilliant nurse who was totally dedicated to her job. She worked very hard and led by example. She had just been promoted to Sister and had a brilliant career ahead of her,' Miss Machin said.

Arthur Tonks, 76, of Rowley Regis, in the West Midlands, died after he was blown on to his greenhouse and cut by the shards of broken glass.

John and Joanne Hughes of Lewes, East Sussex, escaped unscathed when an 80ft tree smashed through their roof and landed on the bed where they were sleeping. The beech tree knocked out the wall and window frame at the front of the bedroom. The couple's 10-week-old twin sons, Jack and Thomas, slept through the ordeal although part of the tree crashed through to their bedroom.

Three people had a narrow escape when their bungalow in Torquay was crushed by a tree. A fireman said it was lucky that they were in their bedrooms and not in the lounge, which was wrecked.

One of the country's biggest wind farms was closed down because of the wind. The Ovenden Moor wind farm, on moorland near Halifax, was switched off to prevent damage to the equipment.

High winds forced firefighters to retreat from a big barn blaze near Bakewell, Derbyshire, which caused an estimated pounds 1.5m of damage yesterday.

Disruption to power supplies to more than 100,000 homes was largely restored by last night.

Insurers said last night that initial indications suggested that the cost will be modest. Royal Insurance estimated that the total cost for the industry is likely to be between pounds 10m and pounds 15m, writes Paul Durman. This compares with the pounds 1.4bn damage caused in October 1987 and the pounds 2.4bn cost of the storms in early 1990.

A Royal spokesman said many of the 4,000 claims it received yesterday were for garden fences and other items that were not covered. It logged about 850 potentially valid claims.

Sun Alliance, Britain's largest general insurer, said the storm was no worse than the windy nights it normally expects once or twice a winter.

Nicholas Balcombe, chief executive of the loss assessors, Balcombe Group, said he would be surprised if the total cost reached pounds 1m.

He said little commercial property was damaged and much of the cost would be for replacing carpets and furniture in the areas of South Wales hit by flooding. Scotland and the South-east had suffered little damage.

(Photograph omitted)