Hurricane strikes southern England 1987

198,7 15 October: Hurricane strikes the south of England with massive damage to buildings and trees followed by numerous roads blocked. Hundreds of calls received overnight in the Operations Room including calls transferred from other overwhelmed police forces. The paper messages written that night are lodged in the County Records Office but closed until 2017.

Gales swept over the south of England closing many roads with Guildford and Farnham hardly accessible. The westbound A31 Hogs back was closed for almost a week.219

Dick Crockford: Hurricane of 1987: I missed it as I was asleep and was surprised that I had to walk to work!

Phil Dunford: I was first aware that something wasn't right when we went to pick up a patrol car left at the top of Wrecclesham Hill, Farnham, having brought in a prisoner, late evening. As I walked across the road I saw a fallen branch a few yards away. Dragged it onto the side of the road and was walking towards the car when the branch appeared again having come over me and landed a few yards in front.

Then the night kicked off ..... Most alarming was Whiteways Corner at Runfold. Several vehicles were trapped there by numerous oaks across the A31 between Runfold and the Hog's Back. It was very strange hearing, above the howling wind, massive trees falling but not being able to see where. At one stage we took cover beneath an articulated lorry.

By dawn the following day we closed the A31 leaving the Shepherd and Flock roundabout. It was amazing to see the wind lifting a car fully extending the suspension on the off-side. We had a difficult couple of hours trying to convince motorists that they had to turn back – including a pilot trying to get to Gatwick. Most people were completely unaware that there had been any adverse weather overnight.

John Donnelly: I was working the crime car at Addlestone at the time on a day shift. The night before I had slept through the hurricane! I was living in Chertsey and went to work (not far) and myself and Andy Mansbridge (382) Gary Sumner (68) and Callum Kirk went to a local hire shop at New Haw and hired a chainsaw and spent the rest of the day under the direction of PS Mick Foster (spent the day in a Landrover overseeing (won't mind me saying that) basically cutting paths through the roads.

What I do remember however is that the Superintendent at the time who was Mick Weyland, refused to compensate us for the expenditure for the chainsaw and we had to pay for it out of our own pockets (probably will mind me saying that).

Dick Johnson: I was on night duty county cover Traffic sergeant on the night of the hurricane in October 87. It started as a routine night shift, i.e. some paperwork and then I took out on my own, the fairly new 4.2 Jag that we had, a useless beast except in a straight line!

I decided to first visit the crews at Godstone and the motorway room. En route down the M25 I noticed that the car was wandering from side to side and thought that the wind must be getting up a bit. Having met the crews and had a cuppa at the motorway room I decided to call in at HQ Ops.

Whilst there we started to get reports form PCs on the street of trees down and blocked roads. These were only a few at that time. Then all the power was lost in HQ and the emergency generator didn't cut in. The place was completely black. I said I would get the search and rescue lamp from my car in the car park out front, but couldn't get out as the front door had an electric lock. I knew I could get out by the door by the gym, and had to feel my way down the long corridor from reception.

I now know what a black hole looks like! Once the torch was in hand it was off to meet the house manager and between us we managed to get the emergency generator started. Back in the control room I assisted in answering 999 calls and as time progressed it was obvious that the situation was rapidly escalating and I made a decision to leave in order to try to get back to HTC.

I was unable to get down Sandy Lane as it was completely blocked by fallen trees. I managed to leave down the back hill past the houses and turned left towards Guildford. The wind by this time was really strong and I wondered how far I would get. On the gyratory, a burned out pub since demolished had plywood hoardings around it guarding the site. As I passed one of these was blown into the car, thankfully with no damage. I amazingly managed to get as far as the six crossroads roundabout before encountering further problems.

A man on a Honda 90 or similar came up from Woodham Lane and told me that Woodham Lane was completely blocked. I knew that Byfleet and Chobham were also no-go areas and tried going towards Ottershaw, the most direct route. Just past Durnford Bridge there was a huge tree completely across the road. Oh well I thought, lets try Martyrs Lane. That road is completely tree lined but amazingly I got through. I couldn't see the road surface for leaves and other debris, but reached Woodham Lane and turned left towards Addlestone.

There my troubles really started. I hadn't gone a few hundred yards when the road was again blocked. In the boot of Traffic cars in those days we kept an axe and a small bow saw. So it was out with those and to try to cut my way through. I suppose it must have been around 2 am by this time. I must say that I have never been so scared in my life.

I was completely on my own, in a howling gale in pitch-blackness with trees and branches crashing all around me. I couldn't see them I could only hear them and several times I made a dive for the "safety" of the interior of the car. Suffice it to say I managed to hack my way through and by taking the car over terrain more usually associated with 4x4s.

It took me nearly 1.5 hours to get to Addlestone, a distance of about two miles. I was concerned for my house and family in Addlestone as there was a huge tree in next-door neighbour's garden. When I arrived the tree was still standing much to my relief. (It actually came down on my house and garage in the storms of '91.)

I then saw movement at the end of the cul-de-sac where I live. I drove down and was met by several families and a scene of destruction. Several large old oak trees had come down on four of the houses and caused considerable damage. The trees had taken out the corners of two of the houses and in one of them a baby had been asleep in its cot. Thankfully he was uninjured although I don't know how.

There was a strong smell of gas and HJ1 couldn't get through to the gas board and the Fire Brigade. My HTC night car managed to bang on the door of Chertsey fire station, and they attended. There was little more that could be done until daylight. On returning to the traffic centre I phoned my wife to tell her not to go to work, or to take the children to school and she said why? She had slept through the whole storm!

Once home after leaving work, I got a double handed felling saw that I have had for years, neighbours got hold of chain saws, my father-in-law came up and we worked until about 3.30 pm that day trying to clear the debris from the bottom of the road. We uncovered five cars and managed to clear most of the trees apart from the trunks so that at least some of the residents could get into their houses.

The couple whose baby so nearly was crushed had to live in hotel accommodation for several months until their house was re-built. They are still there to this day, although I am told that the house still isn't "right". Sorry that this is so long, but it is burned clearly into my memory. I have faced as many others in the job, quite a few potentially dangerous situations, but I can categorically and quite honestly state that I have never been so scared for my safety as I was that night.

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Storms strike Surrey 1990

1990, 25 January: A gust of wind caused a great deal of damage but nothing on the scale of its predecessor in 1987. Operations Room had a severe weather warning and the number of operators and telephones was increased considerably. This was still a simple task as it was still practicable to use pen and paper and so police officers from other parts of Operations Department could be re-directed to help in an emergency.

The location of the wind could be traced as it blew across the county and the 999 calls came in. One sounded like a horrendous multiple fatal road accident. At Farnham a lady collecting the children from school was reported as being trapped in her car, which had been crushed and demolished by a falling tree. The report also indicated that there were children in the car.

The emergency services responded quickly and Operations Room were soon told that remarkably they all got out of the car without serious injury even though the car was crushed and written off. As the wind blew eastwards in Dorking the roof off a factory was blown off and fortunately fell away from the building so that none of the workmen were hurt.

Operations Room during the storm of 1990

 

The storm - a view from Operations Room.294

 

The following account was submitted to Off Beat by Inspector Ted Sherwood.295

On Thursday, January 25, 1990, the peace and tranquillity of Surrey was once again disrupted by storms reminiscent of October 1987

During the early part of that morning, the Operations Room at Headquarters had been kept busy with the usual routine matters. All seemed well with the world, and being Thursday, PS Leigh Carter's crew were looking forward to their long weekend. Little did they realise that some 1500 999 calls would be received in the Operations Rroom during the next six hours.

At about 11 am, the first of the 999 calls started coming in, first as a trickle and then within a few minutes, a torrent. By the very nature of the calls, it was immediately apparent to all that this was not going to be an ordinary morning! As the calls increased, it was not long before saturation point took over and the early-turn crew were now becoming overwhelmed, not only to take the calls but also to do something about them.

Help by now was sorely needed. Like the cavalry charging over the hill, came members of 'MC' [Computer Training Ed.] to the rescue in the form of PS Steve Wood, WPC Jane Bellingham, PS Derek Radlett and PC Ian Parrott. After cries of "Instructing is one thing but doing it for real is another", they quickly settled in and without doubt relieved some of the pressure on an already hard pressed team. By this time, the Headquarters switchboard was going at full steam.

Then, yes, you guessed it, C2 [CAD or computer aided dispatch system, Ed.] crashed. At the same time the Operations Room Inspector was in the throes of a nervous breakdown, the old and tried method of paper again came to the fore. There, still being no let up in the number of 999 calls, further assistance was offered and gratefully accepted, in the form of Chief Inspector Alan Tugwell of T Department and also volunteers from Operations Room late turn.

By midday, all available space and telephone lines were in constant use and it was clear that extra telephones were needed to cope with the demand. In a matter of a few minutes, PC Baz Honeywill found, from what appeared to be nowhere, more phones which he rigged up and made operational in a way that only can be described as miraculous. By now, the room had twenty two operators (of all ranks) working at full tilt.

Some were taking the calls and others were passing them to sub-divisions to be dealt with as and when. By now, a system was being developed under the command of Superintendent Bob Bartlett and Chief Inspector Robin Chapman where every call was answered and passed to the appropriate sub-division.

By 5 pm that evening, the number of calls started to slow down and weary operators had time to snatch a cup of tea and a sandwich supplied at short notice by Mr Anthony from the canteen. As 6 pm drew near, the worst was over and time could be set aside to reflect and perhaps guide some thought and thanks to those who had been working in the Dedicated Station Units throughout the county.

As without doubt, if it had not been for the co-operation, good humour and hard work, our role in the Operations Room, would have been much more difficult and I am quite certain that between us, the public were served yet again in the best tradition of the Surrey Constabulary.

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219 Annual Report 1987.

294 Off Beat.

295 From Off Beat via Baz Honneywill.

 

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