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PICTURES: After the storm the clean-up begins...

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 29, 2013

  • Resident Trevor Marsh checks the depths of the flooded main road in the small vilage of Weare Giffard, Devon UK as flooding and storms hit the UK.

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There was calm after the ferocious storm which battered the Westcountry yesterday forcing a major clear up operation to be launched in its wake.

Thousands of homes were plunged into darkness as 66mph winds brought down scores of trees and power lines in Devon and Cornwall.

Dozens of roads remained closed as rivers broke their banks and emergency services battled to clear mounds of debris dumped by what was dubbed St Jude's storm.

At the Exeter-based Met Office, forecasters said the worst weather had passed over the region prompting a return the previously unsettled autumnal weather

"It will be a lot calmer in comparison but still breezy with gusts of winds up to 20mph or 30mph gusts of wind," said a spokesman.

Occasional thundery showers last night were expected to subside and the winds ease to give a calmer, if chillier picture today. Forecasters were also congratulating themselves on issuing warnings which kept the county largely unscathed from the worst storm in more than a decade.

"It happened as we predicted," said a spokeswoman. "We were able to give five days notice and people were made aware that a significant weather event was pending. We kept re-adjusting our forecast and warnings with the latest information and we worked with all our partners. It all came together and people were able to be prepared."

Prime Minister David Cameron praised the work done by the Met Office.

He said: "The emergency services, as ever, do a brilliant job. These are difficult things to handle because you don't know for certain how strong the storm will be. I think the Met Office provided good information and updated it regularly."

During the height of the St Jude's storm, named after the patron saint of lost causes whose feast day was yesterday, winds of 66mph were clocked at Berry Head in Devon.

As dawn broke, gusts had reduced in speed but were still reported as reaching 45 mph in Plymouth and 44mph at RNAS Culdrose near Helston.

Giant 11-metre tall waves crashed onto the Westcountry shoreline, although police said this happened at low tide and did not cause any major coastal flooding incidents.

The Environment Agency issued dozens of flood warnings yesterday, mainly for Devon but a spokesman said he anticipated many to be downgraded overnight. Sea water quality was also expected to be badly affected by storm surges.

Police, who had drafted in nearly 200 extra staff, established a Silver Command centre at Exeter and three local centres at Truro, Plymouth and Exeter. They said they dealt with over 250 weather related incidents, a number rising as people woke up and identified problems in their community.

Acting chief inspector Robin Hogg, who was in charge of the Silver Command centre in Truro, said it could have been so much worse.

"It looks like people stayed away from danger areas and kept safe. All in all, there are no significant amounts of damage and no loss of life. We are really thankful for that."

In Devon, 81 trees toppled in high winds, with 100 fallen in Dorset. Cornwall Council said it had received 25 reports of fallen tress in the county.

Most train companies experienced significant delays and operated reduced services.

A tree on the line at Ivybridge was struck by a Cross Country train, although no-one was on board and the carriage was not seriously damaged.

On the roads, there were severe problems across the two counties.

Video:In Exeter, the New North Road was completely blocked when a large tree tumbled onto the carriageway at 4am. Meanwhile a man was rescued from his car by fire crews after it became submerged in floodwaters.

Ferry sailings were also cancelled and flights from the region's airports were widely disrupted.

Nationally, more than half a million homes were left without power and four people declared dead, including a 17-year-old girl who's static home was struck by a falling tree as she slept.

An even bigger storm raged on Twitter

The St Jude gale battered the Westcountry, but it could have been much, much worse – Martin Hesp has been musing over the media storm that hit the peninsula on Sunday and Monday.

Yes, it was bad – however, you could add the suffix "ish" to that word. St Jude huffed and puffed – but she didn't blow our house down. She was, in reality, a very British kind of super-storm.

The big meteorological event wasn't exactly a play named after something Shakespeare may have written – but there was a quite lot ado about nothing in the build up to an Atlantic weather-system that was widely heralded as the "worst storm to hit Britain in 20 years".

There was disruption. Trees were knocked over. There were some swollen rivers and even floods. Trains were cancelled or delayed. But there wasn't anything that could really be described as downright maelstrom mayhem.

There was, though, a Twitter-storm. In fact, although Jude – Patron Saint of Lost Causes – was living up to her name in terms of being a mother of block-buster, disaster headlines, she did earn her place in media history by being the first mega-meteorological event to send a blast through the UK's social media networks.

I was there tweeting with the best of them on Sunday night, getting all alarmed and excited by the many near-hysterical missives firing around the digital storm zone…

The tiny messages of no more than 140 characters were feeding anyone who'd pay attention astonishing snippets – such as the so-called 103mph blast of wind that was supposed to have hit St Martins in the Scillies.

Only it didn't. I was informed by a more reliable local source on Monday morning that the Scillonian winds didn't get much over 70 mph. Still bad enough – but not exactly enough to make cows fly.

However, there were indeed bovines being airlifted on Twitter during the storm. I must have seen a dozen doctored photographs purporting to show Friesian cattle being blasted 40 feet into windswept Cornish skies…

But if you can't have a joke while preparing for the worst weather to hit the peninsula in two decades, you may as well throw yourself off a cliff into one of the apocryphal 100ft waves that were supposed to be lashing the coast around Land's End.

Only it was night time and no-one among the eager Twitterati was actually out there capturing images of these tidal waves.

I will believe that eye-witnesses were seeing 100ft walls of spume… The froth, spray and bubbles created by such a storm will easily rise 200 feet – indeed, I was watching exactly that happen at a windy Hurlestone Point on the Exmoor coast some 12 hours before Jude was due to arrive.

Giant plumes of spume are not unusual in a Westcountry autumn gale, so Twitter reports of giant combers had to be relegated to the wishful-thinking department of journalistic reality.

Which brings me to a serious point: we have long heard talk about there no longer being a real need for a proper news media – some people say that all instant news can be more readily and accurately be reported by "citizen journalists" using things like iPhones to take photographs and video and publishing their images and reports on social networking sites like Twitter.

Readily – yes. But accurately? At times, maybe, but by no means always…

I'd like to think most of our readers would agree that if the Western Morning News says something has occurred – and that it happened in such and such a way – then the account will be true and accurate.

But who are we meant to believe in a free-for-all Twitter-storm? Even professional journalists like me are at fault when caught up in one of those unreal vortexes – because the nature of the beast inspires us to re-tweet comments made by others in the vague belief that they are true.

What these networking sites are really good for is enabling us to measure the zeitgeist or mood of the community around us, or even the nation. And so by Monday morning I was seeing all manner of tweets about the storm-that-wasn't – or, to put in the words of one Somerset County Councillor, a gale that was: "Fairly rubbish on the no-fort scale."

And for every two images of real storm damage on Monday, there were half a dozen joke photos of things like single potted plants being knocked over on patios.

Which is why it's worth repeating that this was a very British kind of storm which stirred up small tsunami of our famous dry humour.

Damage could cost billions in insurance

Insurers are counting the cost of the storm but say it is too early to tell whether it will compare with the multibillion-pound hits caused by previous severe weather events.Initial estimates of the level of financial damage wrought are not expected until later this week. But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) says the great storm of 1987 cost around £2 billion in today’s money while the summer floods of 2007 resulted in a hit of more than £3 billion.Insurance giant Aviva said it already had teams on the ground helping those affected by the latest storm while extra staff were drafted in to deal with customer calls overnight and during the day.The South East and the South West experienced the most problems, Aviva said, with damage caused by falling trees and walls, lost tiles and weather damage to roof areas the most common claims so far. ABI is urging anyone who has suffered damage due to the storm to contact their insurer as soon as possible for advice.

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