102mph winds spark repair bill estimated at millions

Roofing on Princes Street
Roofing on Princes Street
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A MAJOR clear-up operation was under way today after a four-hour storm wreaked havoc across Edinburgh, costing the city millions of pounds.

Homeowners and businesses were counting the cost of gale-force winds, with gusts of more than 100mph bringing down trees, damaging buildings and causing travel chaos.

A car is badly damaged in Sleigh Drive, Edinburgh

A car is badly damaged in Sleigh Drive, Edinburgh

In one of the most serious incidents, a woman suffered a serious head wound after being hit by debris that fell from the entrance of the Premier Inn in Morrison Street.

* In Pictures: Winds batter the Lothians

Several road crashes were reported, with the driver of one HGV injured when his vehicle toppled over on the A1 just south of Dunbar.

Rail services across Scotland were disrupted, with at least 200 separate line blockages across the rail network.

Operator Network Rail said given the scale of the clean-up operation, more disruption today was “inevitable”.

The Met Office said although the worst of the weather has passed, there would be 50mph winds this afternoon, followed by heavy showers.

Spokesman Dan Williams said: “The worst of the winds were yesterday morning but we’re still looking at 40-50mph by late afternoon today.

“Then, when the weather picks up, a new weather system will come in and bring very heavy rain.”

Wind speeds peaked at 102mph on Blackford Hill, the third-highest gusts ever recorded in Edinburgh.

Property surveyors at the city council were today accessing the cost of the repairs after being called to 70 reports of damage caused by the weather.

Among the most badly hit buildings included a block of flats in Great Junction Street, where the gable end collapsed.

Kate Crawford, 45, who lives with her husband and son on the ground floor, said: “I was actually at the window filling the kettle, heard this huge rumble and saw the masonry coming down.

“It was very scary, it just dropped in front of me. It landed at the side of the building in a parking space. If anyone had been walking underneath they would have been killed.”

Meanwhile, council workers were attempting to clear 70 trees blown down across the city, including those that left Melville Drive and Queensferry Road completely blocked.

The council’s contact centre dealt with 980 calls concerning the impact of the weather, up from 190 last January 3, when there was more than 12 inches of snow on the ground.

Among the incidents reported was one from residents at a tenement in Morrison Street whose chimney was blown from the roof through the glass skylight and landed at the bottom of the communal stair.

At the nearby Premier Inn, a panel fell from the entrance at around 9am, striking a woman and leaving her with a deep cut to the head.

She was taken to the ERI after being treated by ambulance crews at the scene.

A wall measuring 30ft across was blown down in Salamander Street around noon, while debris fell on to Johnston Terrace from the Castle approach.

A section of George Street was cordoned off and businesses forced to close after roofing came loose, and the Zara store in Princes Street was shut temporarily after materials from the adjacent building flew on to the street.

Waverley Station was closed after materials being used to construct the new roof began to come loose.

Edinburgh Airport had to shut its access road and cancel 60 flights within the space of a few hours, while the Forth Road Bridge remained closed for much of the day.

The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce told the Evening News it expected millions would be lost from the local economy from lost retail and workers stranded at home However, it said the impact would have been far worse if the storm hit today when tens of thousands of public and private sector employees return to work after the festive break.

Graham Birse, deputy chief executive, said: “It’s certainly damaging for business because the sales are in full swing and shoppers might have been tempted to be out and about looking for bargains.

“The impact will be in the millions.”

Ben Hall, spokesman for Network Rail, which operates the rail network and Waverley Station, said: “The strength of the wind was such that we couldn’t take the chance of keeping Waverley open.

“Rather than structural damage this was largely because of the work on the roof of the station, which is likely to have been displaced because of the winds.

“All trains on the network were cancelled despite our best efforts to minimise any disruption.

“There was a lot of garden debris, sheds and trampolines going on to the tracks from neighbouring gardens and we got to the point where we couldn’t keep them open.

“We’re trying to get as much of the network as possible open, but given the scale of the clear-up job there will inevitably be some disruption.”

A council spokesman said: “Council emergency staff have been extremely busy due to the extreme winds which hit the city yesterday.

“Staff have had to deal with a huge number of calls relating to blown-over trees, road closures, collapsed chimneys and walls.”

He added that residents with damage to their buildings or with trees blocking their roads today should phone the council on 0131-200 2000.

HIGHEST IN THE UK

GALE force wind speeds reached almost unprecedented highs in Edinburgh yesterday, peaking at 102mph on Blackford Hill shortly before 9am.

The figure represents a 14-year high – and sparked questions over why an earlier warning was not given.

The gusts, recorded by the Met Office, were the highest in the UK yesterday and only compare to the 107mph recorded on Boxing Day 1998 and the 110mph record from December 4 1979.

On Monday, forecasters issued an amber warning to expect speeds of 70-80mph and 90mph in isolated areas. However, they re-issued a red alert at about 8am yesterday morning after the severity of the weather front emerged, warning to expect 85mph-95mph within the hour. Gusts of 85 mph were then recorded at Gogarbank.

Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP said the gusts were “much stronger than originally forecast”. He said that the Scottish Government Resilience Committee met as soon as the weather picture became clear.

In the Lothians, Assistant Chief Constable Bill Skelly chaired a tactical meeting of the Strategic Co-ordinating Group at the police headquarters at Fettes.