As I write, it is the anniversary of the hurricane 15 October 1987, that hit the UK and parts of Europe. Seeing people share their stories on social media has brought back lots of memories.
Talk Of A Hurricane Dismissed
The weather had taken a nasty turn in the South East of England where I lived with my (then) husband. This was 33 years ago, and we lived in a village on the outskirts of Horsham in West Sussex. Strong winds were forecast and we watched the weather reports with interest. We were reassured when a famous ‘weather man’ of the time, Michael Fish said that any talk of a hurricane was a false alarm.
Birthday Celebration 15 October 1987
It was my husband’s birthday and I had a wonderful home cooked meal planned. This involved lots of new recipes and my using just about every pot and pan I possessed. A few things were cooked in the oven. By the time I had finished the kitchen was a mess! At the end of the meal, we sat by the log fire and listened to music and carried on drinking wine. By the time we were ready to go to bed, we couldn’t face doing all the washing up and cleaning the kitchen so we said we would do it in the morning.
Awoken By The Cat
Our cat, HG woke us up in the middle of the night, wailing and clearly terrified. Laying in bed, trying to reassure him, we could hear the most awful howling sound outside. Then crashes and bangs. That woke us up! There were flashes of light which we assumed to be lightning.
Things got progressively more scary through the early hours. We lost electricity, which made the flashes of light even more alarming somehow. The howling noise got worse and, looking out of the bedroom window, you could see objects flying through the air. This went on for hours!
Seeing The Devastation
In the morning we looked out of the window to a scene of devastation, trees and fences down all over the place and debris in the road. We couldn’t open our back door because the fence had fallen down and wedged against it. Looking through the patio doors we were horrified to see all our fences were down and so were all of the big trees around the edge of our small property.
The kitchen, of course, was full of greasy pots and pans and other chaos from our lovely evening the night before. And no electricity means no hot water!
Learning Point 1: 15 October 1987 was when I learned never to go to bed without having cleaned up the kitchen!
Going outside, we saw that my car had a lucky escape. It was parked on the road and a tree had fallen either side of it without causing any damage. Roof tiles were missing, the garden was full of debris. It was such a shock! A neighbor found a greenhouse in their back garden, perfectly intact and with no broken glass. Only one problem, it wasn’t theirs! They had no idea where it had come from but the wind had picked it up and put it in their back garden.
We discovered that all the flashing lights were power cables coming down.
Worried About Family
In the same way I am worried about my family in the UK now with the COVID situation, at the time of the hurricane I was very anxious. I had no way of knowing how much damage they had and if they were okay. With no electricity there was no telephone. My husband used the last battery in his mobile phone to check on his parents. My phone too had little battery as I had forgotten to charge it. I phoned my Mum with what battery I had left – who was just about to go to work! “Mum, I don’t think so!” I said and then quickly filled her in on what had happened. They had some shingle that had come down from the roof but didn’t realize something bigger had happened. Then we were cut off. At least I knew they were safe.
Learning Point Two: Always keep your mobile phone charged in case of emergency.
All Pulling Together
Being in a small village, the community spirit was high and we formed ‘work gangs’ going around to each house. We cleared what we could and made sure everyone and everything was safe. We also had to deal with flooded gardens as with all the leaves and bits of tree that had fallen drains had been blocked. The torrential rain had nowhere to go.
That sense of community spirit is evident too here in Paciano, with how everyone has pulled together to support each other during the COVID lockdown and since. Back to the story.
Three Weeks Without Electricity
Thank Goodness For the Pub
As the day went on, the local pub let it be known that they had an Aga cooker (not reliant on electricity). Free teas and coffees were available to anyone who needed them. Which was just as well as we couldn’t make a hot drink ourselves. And the pub became a center of activity as the reality of no electricity for some considerable time began to bite.
Alternative Sources Of Heating Are A Must
Learning Point 3: 15 October 1987 was when I learned that having a mix of gas and electricity and an alternative source of heating are a good move. You know, just in case.
Living where I do now in Italy with Barnet Boy, it is not unusual to lose electricity for a day or perhaps two. All the electricity and telephone lines are overhead, so strong winds and a falling tree branch can create havoc. But the house has log burning stoves and a gas hob so we can still function without electricity. Consider that learning point taken on board!
Leaving The Village To Get Provisions
We had a lot of frozen food that went to waste. We took some to the pub so they could use it. But it was surprising how much you rely on things that have to be refrigerated or frozen!
When the fallen trees were cleared from the main road we were able to drive into the big town and visit my husband’s parents and use their telephone to speak to my family properly. We bought a camping stove so that we could at least have tea, coffee and soup at home! We also bought food that just involved opening packets. Candles were in short supply but we found some and also a couple of additional torches, packets of batteries etc.
Learning Point 4: Make sure you have alternate light sources that don’t need electricity and batteries for the radio.
The Day The Electricity Returned
We had given up after two and a half weeks and gone to a hotel in order to enjoy hot baths, hot food and being able to see each other after 5pm in the evening! While we were away the electricity came back on.
My neighbor was sitting with her family, playing cards by candlelight. She paused and asked “How long has the light been flashing on the video recorder?”. “I saw it earlier,” said one of the kids, who miraculously survived admitting it. You’ve guessed it, the electricity had been on for hours and they hadn’t realized. Their biggest joy was then opening the dishwasher that had been full of water and dirty dishes for weeks – eeyugh!
The Great Storm
If you are interested in finding out more about ‘The Great Storm‘ Wikipedia is your friend. The South East of England, where we lived, was the most badly hit in the UK but there was widespread damage across the country. 15 million trees came down and famous landscapes were changed forever. We lived near Chanctonbury Ring, a local landmark featuring a ring of trees high on a hill that could be seen for miles. Well, few trees up there survived the hurricane force winds and the ‘ring’ no longer existed. Parts of France were also badly hit. It cost the insurance industry a fortune.
This all happened at night and into the early hours of the morning. Can you imagine how many people would have been injured or killed if it had happened during the day? Doesn’t bear thinking about.
So, there you go, my memories of the hurricane 15 October 1987. I wouldn’t want to go through that again! I have no photos of it, our mobile phones didn’t have cameras and we were too busy coping with life to film anything at the time anyway!
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!