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. This article on the BBC News website shows their faces.