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Great Storm’s anniversary brings back powerful memories of East’s blast from the past

Memories remain vivid for power workers who battled the hurricane of October 1987 - which still resonates today as the ultimate blast from the past.

From Press releases - 6 October 2017 12:00 AM

Ferocious winds of more than 100 miles an hour brought devastation to the East of England and damaged the electricity network on an unprecedented scale. Today many staff at Britain’s biggest electricity distributor can still recall the ferocity of the great storm and its tremendous impact as trees ripped through overhead power lines, plunging the region into days of darkness.

In just a few hours 100 mile an hour winds had destroyed a network that had taken 50 years to build – but, incredibly, all damage was repaired within just two weeks. At the peak of the incident, 750,000 customers were off supply in Eastern region. Within 30 hours after the storm hit, that had been reduced that to 350,000 customers of, less than half the original number.

Around 3,000 company staff plus 1,000 other workers from other companies and the army were mobilised. 16 helicopters inspected overhead lines and moved staff and materials. In the first week after the storm hit, six months’ worth of overhead line equipment was used for repairs, and extra shipments were flown in from France.

As the 30th anniversary approaches (October 15), Les Waters is now UK Power Networks’ area manager for Colchester. Back in 1987, he was an overhead lines foreman working in north Essex in hugely difficult circumstances.

He said: “We were facing a mammoth task to rebuild the overhead lines. In just a few hours the network had suffered 15 years’ worth of damage and it was so difficult to get out to repair them.

“I remember literally cutting my way down a country lane in Essex, using a chainsaw, to reach our equipment. Without the technology we have today, we had to rely on local people to tell imported staff where the power cables and poles were.

“I was also given the first mobile phone in the company, to use when I went up in one of 16 helicopters we used to help spot where overhead lines were down and report back.”

Henry Moye, a field engineer with UK Power Networks based at the company’s Bury St Edmunds office, has been with the company since 1966 and this year won the Supernova Long Service Award.

Looking back over his career, those weeks in 1987 stands out in particular. He said: “I can still remember the huge gratitude from people when we arrived to help them and I can still recall how moved myself and my colleagues were by this.

“When we drove up in our van, people poured out into the street they were so pleased to see us. It was two weeks of solid work, but it was people’s reactions which kept you going. The emotion bubbled up inside and it was great to be thanked like that.

“I have worked for the company for more than 50 years now, but you never lose that feeling of pride when you have done your bit to help resolve a significant power cut.”

The helicopters were also used to move staff and equipment. In the first week after the storm hit, six months’ worth of overhead line equipment sticks were used for repairs and further shipments were flown in from France.

The restoration work was hampered by roads blocked with trees, telecommunication problems and heavy rains and flooding in the days following the storm. In the first few days after the storm the full extent of the damage was hard to quantify as much of the network is rural and it was difficult to access due to blocked roads.

Eastern Electricity, which ran the electricity network at the time, had emergency plans in place before the storm. These were tested to the limits and some key lessons were learned, which have been incorporated into the working practices of UK Power Networks. The region’s electricity supplies are now 99.9% reliable, and engineers work quickly to restore power if overhead lines are damaged, for example by lightning, high winds or debris.

Anyone who would feel vulnerable in a power cut can apply to be on the company’s free Priority Services Register to get extra help if their power is ever interrupted. If you rely on electricity for medical reasons, have a disability, are of pensionable age or have a young family you can qualify for extra services including:
• A 24-hour priority phone number
• A dedicated team who will contact you to keep you updated during a power cut
• Tailored support if needed such as home visits, hot meals, advice and keeping your friends and relatives updated
• In certain scenarios we may also offer a free hotel overnight and transport to the hotel
 
To apply visit www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/priority, ring us on 105, or email psr@ukpowernetworks.co.uk.

A video which looks back on the immediate aftermath of the storm, produced by Seeboard at the time, is available to view at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAsmm8uSGUY