The horrors of one night in 1987

IT was the longest night of our lives.

A quarter of a century ago, the South East was battered by one of the worst storms ever seen on dry land.

Two people lost their lives here, hundreds of buildings were damaged, thousands of trees raised to the ground, dozens of caravans wrecked by floods and power supplies downed for days.

Today the Observer’s chief reporter Sol Buckner takes a look back at that frightful night of Friday October 16, 1987.

IT WAS the moment that TV weather presenter Michael Fish will never live down.

He told millions of viewers watching his BBC forecast that a woman had rung in to say there was a hurricane on the way.

“Don’t worry,” he calmly told us. “If you’re watching - there isn’t. But having said that the weather will become very windy. Most of the high winds will be in Spain and across into France.”

It was the understatement of the century.

Hours later the South East of England was battered by the worst storm to hit the country for 280 years.

It claimed the lives of 18 people, two of them here in Hastings.

Winds of more than 100mph lashed our coasts from the early hours of the morning causing churches, schools and houses to collapse.

Woodlands dating back hundreds of years were felled in a matter of hours and dozens of people had to be evacuated from their homes.

As the sun rose and the terrifying winds eventually died down, our towns and its people tried to come to terms with the scenes of utter devastation that surrounded them.

The damage was estimated at around £2 million and there were accusations that the Government didn’t do enough to help in the aftermath.

The most catastrophic events happened at 2.30am at the former Queen’s Hotel where a four ton chimney crashed through four storeys and killed guest Ronald Davies from Warwickshire.

Mr Davies, a retired shopkeeper, was crushed to death by an avalanche of rubble as he lay in his bed.

His wife Gladys Davies had escaped with minor injuries when a mattress wrapped itself around her, protecting against the falling masonry.

Fellow guest Simon Corby from Chelmsford in Essex had an equally lucky escape by hanging on to a doorframe as the floors collapsed beneath him.

But down at the Stade, emergency services had to deal with another tragedy.

Fisherman Jimmy Read, 49, was killed when the roof of a fishing hut blew off and landing on top of him.

Passers-by tried to the father-of-three but he was dead on arrival at the old Royal East Sussex Hospital.

The emergency and voluntary services worked around the clock to try and cope with thousands of 999 calls.

Dozens of people had to be evacuated from their homes with the Falaise Hall and Isobel Blackman Centre set up as

temporary refuges.

Thousands of homes and offices lost their electricity supply with some cut off for more than a week.

Telephone lines were also down and engineers had to be drafted in from all over the country to help.

The spire of St Luke’s United Reformed Church in Silverhill collapsed into the building causing £100,000 worth of damage.

Flood water up to four feet deep stranded those living in caravans at Coombe Haven Holiday Park. Dozens of caravans at the site were overturned and damaged.

It was estimated that 60 per cent of the county’s woodland was wiped out, 2,000 trees lost across the Hastings borough.

Many residents told the Observer about their near death experiences and how they were saved.

Paul Merison, of Ghyllside Avenue, Hastings, was 19, when the storm hit his parents house in Normandy Road

He said: “Amazingly I slept through the storm. We were the lucky ones, losing only our greenhouse glass, ornamental wall and a couple of ridge tiles from the roof of our house. It was not until I drove through Silverhill on my way to work and saw the devastation at St Lukes Church, that the gravity and scale of the storm became apparent.

The morning journey to my office in Bexhill took me almost three times as long as normal, weaving past a fallen trees, phone lines, damaged vehicles and properties. Had the storm been at it’s height during the day then I am sure the devastation, injuries and loss of life in our town would have been much worse.”