Monday, 11 January 2010

Five years ago today

11 January 2005 is one of those days that everybody who was in the Outer Hebrides at the time will not forget. A deep Atlantic depression moved past our islands, bringing with it winds of force 12 on the Beaufort scale, with gusts in excess of 130 mph. At the time, I was staying in Kershader, 12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies - more like 22 miles by road. At 6.22pm, the power went off, not to go back on again for 48 hours. The wind was already howling around the building. Blue flashing lights penetrated the darkness from across Loch Erisort - police cars were stopping traffic on the Stornoway to Tarbert road after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver of the South Lochs bus that night was mightily relieved to make it home in one piece, he told me later. Trees were downed, roofs taken off, vehicles crushed under trees - and hundreds of them toppled in the Castle Grounds in Stornoway. High tides lapped at the doors of people on Cromwell Street and Bayhead in the town. Boats were torn off their moorings and smashed into the ferry terminal. Slates became like missiles, and pedestrians blown off their feet. Some who sought refuge were denied entry; others were taken inside.

The next morning dawned breezy and bright. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. That was a bad one, but it's only damage. By 9.20 am however, reports start to emerge from the Southern Isles. Five people are missing in South Uist, after they fled their home the previous evening at around 7pm. Rising tides had started to approach their home, and pebbles were hurled against walls and windows. They enter two cars and drive from their home at Eochdar towards the causeway, linking South Uist and Benbecula. A fatal decision. That road parallels the stretch of sea that separates the two islands. The southeasterly storm, combined with a springtide from the northwest pushed the waters of Loch Bi up; but on account of the floodtide they could not drain into the sea. The loch flooded a small causeway, sweeping the cars into the water. By morning, the five missing people are found dead. They include a mother and father with two young children and a grandfather.

A notice in the Stornoway Gazette of last week commemorated their loss. This entry is in their memory too.


  1. I remember seeing the incident reported on the news Arnish, it was a terrible thing.

  2. I also remember that night, God bless them

  3. I remember it too, it got lots of national news coverage because it was so tragic and such a frightening demonstration of the power of the weather.

  4. I was working on Uist/Benbecula at the time and living on South Uist. That day I was working in Lochmaddy and had to travel back to Grogarry on South Uist. I was told to leave because of a severe weather warning. I said I would go later (I am from Coventry I thought they meant a bit of rain and wind) NO - NOT AT ALL. As I drove through Benbecula, the 'bit of wind' was surely picking up. Driving over the causeway at Loch Bi the water hit my car. I was getting the picture - but it all soon stopped being funny. The power all went down, I know not that unusual but with the howling wind that came with it, it seemed even worse. I let my Bull terrier out to do his business and he was fighting against the wind - scary stuff he's a strong little man. I think I slept for about one hour that night.

    The next day was all too calm - very calm. I was working at the hospital and when I got there (after the causeways were cleared of rubble; BIG rubble) the news was filtering through. People were out searching and the mood was low. The tragic, and by that time inevitable, news gradually came. I knew the Grandfather that died. The loss of the whole family was truly awful. I tell people about it and I don't think that they really grasp how scary it all was. I don't mind adding to that - even more perhaps for an Englishman from the midlands, we just get rain. With the loss of life the damage to the buildings, very annoying and inconvenient, was clearly just that.

    I finished my contract after 12 months and headed for sunny Devon. I am now back in Coventry. I will never forget that night and what happened. Beside this, I am trying to move back. The Islands hold something very special for me and having done the whole year alone I hope that our family make it back for more than a holiday.