Thirty years ago this weekend, Ealing suffered its worst storm for nearly 300 years.
The Great Storm of October 15-16 1987, with winds reaching almost 100mph, brought 5,000 trees crashing down in the borough.
For more than a century, Ealing had been considered to be the capital’s most leafy borough. Its tree-lined streets and areas of parkland led to the accolade Queen of the Suburbs.
In the wake of the hurricane, residents launched a huge tree replacement scheme and by April 1989, had planted 5,400 new trees.
On the night of the great gale, up to one in three homes in west London were damaged. Hospitals, schools and offices reported much structural damage.
Eighty out of 90 schools in the Ealing borough had either trees down or structural damage to buildings.
Dormers Wells High School lost part of its kitchen roof. At Downe Manor First and Middle School, a large tree crashed down on a classroom and at Ealing College, Greenwood First and Middle, and Our Lady of Visitation, there was extensive damage.
Coffin bearers in Bernard Road, Ealing, had to pick their way through trees as one family proceeded with the funeral of a loved one.
Elsewhere in the borough, wartime shrapnel was found embedded in upturned trees and this timber could not be sold to merchants.
Across London, more than 600 trees were brought down on London Underground tracks.
On October 16 1987 London Fire Brigade dealt with 4,000 calls in just a few hours, creating a pressure that was without precedent in peacetime.
London’s 6,800 firefighters from the 114 stations across London rescued people trapped in buildings, attended scenes where trees had fallen on cars and climbed roofs to take down chimneys which were about to collapse after being loosened by the furious winds.
The brigade’s problems were made worse at 4.23am when a power cut blacked out all three mobilising control rooms and the central operations room at Lambeth HQ.
Generators came into operation, but teleprinter links to fire stations were not working in all but one of the control rooms, so radio telephones had to be used for several hours until the electricity was restored.
For many the Great Storm will be remembered for the Met Office’s weather forecast the day before when Michael Fish famously told TV viewers not to worry, there was no hurricane on the way (see video at top of story) .
Mr Fish said that a woman had rung the BBC to enquire about a major storm approaching as her son was due to go camping and he could reassure her that there wasn’t. The woman is said to have made the call from Pinner.
The rest is history. Across the South East, 15 million trees were felled and as much as £3 billion of damage was caused. Nineteen people lost their lives.
* getwestlondon is grateful for extracts from the book, London’s Hurricane by Ian Currie and Mark Davison. Details of the publication can be obtained by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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