I set off with trepidation on Monday morning after dire warnings about the worst storms to hit Britain this decade. Stepped out of the front door to find our window boxes had been blown off and lay scattered on the ground – my husband’s lovingly nurtured geraniums cruelly tipped out and the plants and roots exposed to the elements.
A tree had fallen across an adjoining road and cars were gingerly driving around it by mounting the pavement. Empty garbage boxes were strewn across another road. Our underground station in west London, Ealing Common, was closed. Three ambulances were parked outside the station, not a reassuring sight. A member of staff informed us that the next station, Ealing Broadway, was also shut because a huge tree had crashed across the tracks. I was due at a press launch by 9 am, hopped on a bus and was advised by the driver that I would have to change buses at least twice to reach my destination next to Green Park station which is normally not more than a half-hour ride on the underground train. Prepared for an arduous journey and was proved right.
The road was clogged with traffic and the bus journey was painfully slow. The bus inched through stretches of the road which were flooded turning it into a waterway better suited to boats. Passengers were remarkably calm. It was a lengthy drive but the consoling factors were that the winds were dying down and sunshine was breaking through the clouds.
We were lucky compared to other parts of southern Britain which bore the brunt of the ferocious storm, appropriately named St Jude after the patron saint of lost causes whose feast day also happened to be Monday. Packing winds of up to 100 miles an hour the storm blew down an estimated 200 hundred trees. At least two people were crushed to death by falling trees. Power lines were torn down, roofs ripped off buildings and rivers burst their banks. Road, rail services and flights were delayed or cancelled altogether. According to a report on the radio a bus laden with passengers was lifted off the road by raging winds and ended up in a farmer’s field; miraculously no one was seriously hurt. Pictures of giant waves smashing into sea walls and other scenes of devastation were splashed across the front pages of newspapers. TV and radio provided minute-by-minute updates on the progress of the storm and its impact across the country. Twitter and social media were abuzz with first-hand accounts from individuals affected by the storm and advice on areas and roads to avoid.
By mid- morning, the storm had blown itself out in London. Normality was gradually restored and Londoners were able to enjoy a sunny, tranquil autumn day. That is, until the rain returned in the evening.
I finally arrived at the press event an hour and a half late. Given the weather conditions the organizers were relieved anyone turned up at all. Londoners got off lightly compared to those in the rest of the country who experienced the full fury of St. Jude. Those in the worst affected areas will be counting the cost over the next few weeks, months and possibly years. It is estimated that the total clean-up bill could be as high as £4 billion. As the nation takes stock, we can only be thankful that in our small corner of London we saw the milder face of St. Jude.