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Wednesday, October 17, 2012
AS we continue to look back on The Great Storm of 1987, Editor Terry Hunt reflects on how reporters in Suffolk covered such a momentous day in history.
My first memories of October 16, 1987 – the day the Great Storm struck Suffolk – are ones of confusion and bewilderment.
I had worked late the night before, organising coverage of what threatened to be serious flooding in Stowmarket. As you may recall, the day before the storm was wet and extraordinarily mild. I remember saying to my wife that the weather was “weird’’.
I left the office late and went to bed, worrying that Stowmarket would be under water when I woke up. At 6am, after a fitful night, I toddled downstairs to call the police. “What’s the state of play with the flooding?’’ I asked an harassed-sounding Inspector in the Suffolk Police control room.
“Flooding? What are you talking about? We’ve had a hurricane overnight!’’ was the response – very polite and patient in the circumstances! That conversation began a memorable, challenging and very long working day.
As I walked through Ipswich in the half-light, it was clear that something out of the ordinary had taken place. Huge trees had been ripped up, sturdy brick walls toppled, and the streets were littered with every kind of wind-blown debris you could imagine.
My first task was to summon a reporting team. Not easy in the days before mobiles, when telephone wires had been ripped down by the sheer force of the gale. I did manage to contact enough people, though, and so the day started in earnest.
We had to produce a special edition of the Star, so I sent every available reporter and photographer out to a whole series of dramas. Trees crashing through roofs, whole forests being destroyed, lorries being blown over on the Orwell Bridge, a tanker drifting at Felixstowe Port, a village chapel being smashed to smithereens. In every corner of Suffolk, something incredible was happening.
One by one the reporters returned to the office to write their stories for our tight deadlines. Each and every one of them came back convinced that it was THEIR story which should be on the front page later that day. But, on this amazing day, incredible stories which otherwise would have dominated the paper were tucked away inside. That day, we had about 20 front page leads!
A very dramatic Star was published, packed with amazing stories of devastation and lucky escapes. Thankfully, and most importantly, no lives were lost in Suffolk.
Then we turned our attentions to our sister paper, the East Anglian Daily Times. With more time to plan, we were able to devote more pages to the unprecedented events in Suffolk, and further afield. I remember being astonished by the pictures of Rendlesham forest, a place which I had known since childhood. Every tree, bar a few, had been sawn off at precisely the same height, as if some giant had gone through the forest with a huge chainsaw.
We were also able to start trying to explain exactly why this had happened – why had it not been forecast? Of course, Michael Fish’s famous “Hurricane? What hurricane?’’ broadcast is now synonymous with the Great Storm. But, as far as I can recall, he didn’t figure in the first day’s coverage. I guess his embarrassment only came to light a few days later!
None of our reporters wrote about anything else that day, with the honourable exception of Don Black, who produced the obituary for Lady Blanche Cobbold, mother of Ipswich Town chairmen Mr John and Mr Patrick.
My final task of the day was writing the front page lead of the EADT. I remember it was a really difficult first paragraph to put together. There were so many dramas, so many angles, so many stories. How to encapsulate all of that in 20 words? In the end I went with: “Storm-battered East Anglia was last night a scene of chaos and devastation after being torn apart by hurricane-force winds.’’
Not exactly poetic, but it summed up one of the most extraordinary days in my 33-year career in journalism.
Tomorrow we will look at how the storm affected Annbrook Road in Ipswich, and Felixstowe. Send us your storm photos and memories via suffolk.iwitness24.co.uk.