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Gallery: Panic at Felixstowe port as tanker broke free

11:49 18 October 2012

The Silver Falcon after colliding with the oil pipeline at Felixstowe port.

The Silver Falcon after colliding with the oil pipeline at Felixstowe port.

Archant

Nowhere escaped the devastation caused by the 100mph winds of the Great Storm of 1987.

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Richard Cornwell relives the morning after the storm

DRIVING around Felixstowe on the morning after it seemed every road had a story to tell.

Branches were strewn around the streets, occasionally a felled tree blocked a path or road, and pavements were littered with roof slates and debris.

Having pulled away a garden fence which had collapsed onto my car, I selfishly made for Cavendish Park where we had just exchanged contracts on a house to check it was still standing – thankfully, it was and I could see no damage.

The same could not be said for the homes in Garfield Road, where it looked as if a huge hand had come down and simply ripped off the flat roofs and slung them into the road in a broken heap.

Much of the town was without electricity – and would remain so for a couple of days.

I recall on the following day, the Saturday, reporting on the Young Conservatives’ regional conference at the Spa Pavilion . . . by candlelight. We stuck candles in old wine bottles to shine a little light on the topics of the debates and in true British tradition kept on with the show.

AS gales lashed the coast, a ship carrying a toxic cargo broke free from its moorings and crashed into an oil jetty, fuelling fears of an explosion.

The incident was just one of many dramatic moments as the Great Storm of 1987 swept across the Felixstowe peninsula, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

Like towns across the county, the resort was left battered and bruised by the gales, with trees torn down in streets and gardens and The Grove woodland, fences smashed, and a large number of homes damaged.

The Trimley Methodist Church was destroyed after its spire was sent toppling and crashed into the main part of the building.

Church members worked hard to raise the funds for the re-building of the church, succeeding in constructing a new modernised church which still serves the community today.

The biggest scare though was at the Port of Felixstowe where the 70-metre vessel Silver Falcon broke loose and crashed into the oil pipeline jetty near the Dock Basin – neither jetty or basin exist today.

The ship, carrying a concoction of chemicals, was holed on its starboard side and an emergency operation swung into action to rescue the crew and stabilise the tanker amid fears that it could explode.

Emergency services were worried that if a toxic cloud went up, then a huge area would have to be evacuated.

Thankfully, the situation was quickly got under control.

Elsewhere on the port – which was closed for several days because of the winds, damage to other ships and the number of containers uprooted and flung around the quays and storage parks – there was a real human tragedy.

Port policeman Sgt Jack Wragg suffered serious neck injuries when he was flung against a wall at the height of the gale.

The husband and father-of-one was blown off his feet by a 100mph gust of wind and was hurled into the Dock Tower like piece of paper, and then picked up by the wind and thrown against the gate leading to the South Pier.

Mr Wragg, who had been a member of the Queen’s bodyguard and was a holder of the British Empire Medal, lay unconscious for 20 minutes before he was found and was taken to Ipswich Hospital where doctors broke the news to him that he was paralysed.

While many homes were left without chimneys and suffered missing tiles and gable ends, the most spectacular damage happened in Garfield Road where a sudden gust ripped the flat roofs off a row of clifftop homes.

The blast first struck the home of Mike Collins, who used to run the bingo at Felixstowe pier, tearing off a section and sending it smashing onto a Mercedes car. It then continued along the row, ripping off each roof in turn.

Retired BT worker, Ian King, 60, said he could recall the night well, hearing the increasing gale whip along the coast.

“I remember it was a very windy night and then suddenly I heard a hell of a thud and that was when the roofs came off,” he said.

“We looked out into the dark and we could see the felt and wood flapping about. The wind had just lifted it like a hinge.”

Mr King, who has lived at his home in Garfield Road with his wife Louise for 31 years, said it took months for the repairs to be done with the homes all surrounded in 15ft high scaffolding to give the contractors Drake and Plant room to work.

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