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By Paul Geater
Monday, October 15, 2012
I SHOULD not have been working on October 16, 1987.
THE strongest wind ever recorded over the British Isles came on February 13, 1989, when a deep depression passing to the north of Scotland brought a gust of 142mph at Fraserburgh, says The Met Office. “The reason that The Great Storm of October 1987 gained such publicity was that it occurred in a densely populated area and caused enormous damage to trees.”
My wife and I had a couple of days off work and we’d been to a concert at Wembley Arena in London the previous night.
We left London on the 11.30 train from Liverpool Street, which turned out to be the last train from the capital to Ipswich for several days.
It was a slow journey because there was torrential rain and high winds. We arrived in Ipswich about an hour and a half late – sometime after 2am. It was extremely wet and windy, but the full power of the storm was still about a couple of hours away.
We were woken up by the phone at about 6.30am. It was my news editor, Terry Hunt, who asked me to get into work as soon as possible.
I spent the morning with photographer Dave Kindred, visiting areas just outside Ipswich. We headed towards Shotley, where there were reports that a controversial “prison ship” – a former ferry that was being used to hold low-risk prisoners – had broken its moorings at Harwich and was bobbing about on the Stour.
Finding our way to Shotley was a challenge. It was still very blustery, and the main road was blocked by several trees and branches.
In the afternoon I was sent to the Framlingham/Leiston area. There were, of course, no mobile phone, so when I came across a story I had to find a phone box that was working or persuade someone to let me use their phone to report what I had found.
One of the most dramatic sights I came across was the Baptist chapel at Cransford that had been blown away by the winds. I also had one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I visited a house at Friston, where a tree had smashed into a gable end, missing someone asleep in bed by inches.
As the damage was being pointed out to me, the householder said: “Come here. Just move that cable; we told the electricity board about it this morning. They switched it off then.”
As I prepared to move the cable to avoid tripping, a leaf floated down, touched it, and burst into flames – it was clearly still live, with thousands of volts passing through it!
“Ah,” said the householder, “maybe you’d better not touch it!”