Great Storm destruction and aftermath relived

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On the night of the storm Joyce Johnson was working the night shift at St. Leonards Park nursing home on Hampers Lane looking after 26 elderly residents.

“We hadn’t taken any notice of the weather alerts. Then I noticed how the wind was getting stronger and stronger as the night went on,” said the 65 year old Horsham resident.

“Many residents were waking up disturbed by the hail, which was crashing onto the glass dome at the centre of the building. We thought it was going to break.

“I looked out of the window to see our shed take off into the air and rolls of wallpaper that were stored inside unravelled in the wind and took to the sky.”

Little did Joyce know that she and her colleague would be trapped inside the building for four days with limited food, without electricity and no hot water.

“When first light came we were shocked at the sight, it was complete destruction. The fallen trees blocked the road so we couldn’t leave and no one could get in.

JPCT WSCT archive 1987. Disaster year. 1987

JPCT WSCT archive 1987. Disaster year. 1987

“Fortunately, on the second day two staff members climbed over the trees and scratched up their legs to get in the building and help us out.

“We had no hot water but we had gas, so we boiled water in the saucepans to wash the residents. We also had a freezer full of food, but no bread or milk.

“In the night time we had no lights so we used candles, but the residents knew what was going on and took on this war time spirit to carry on and see it through.”

Unable to contact her family, Joyce was concerned for her teenage daughter who was trapped at home.

“The phone lines were down and we didn’t have mobile phones, so I couldn’t call my 17 year-old daughter to see if she was safe.”

Working around the clock, Joyce and the three members of staff took it in turns to work and sleep.

It took three days for neighbours to chop up the felled trees and clear the road. Miraculously, the care home was unharmed, but it was Joyce’s home that had sustained the most damage.

“When I turned into Depot Road where I still live today, I could see a lamp had crashed down and trees everywhere, but it was eerily quiet.

“It was like World War three had just happened.

“My house tiles had fallen off the roof and destroyed my neighbour’s car. Water had come through the ceiling and was even dripping through the light switches.”

In the face of destruction, Joyce remembers the neighbours pitching in to help each other out.

“The community really came together. I still had electricity and hot water, so we had neighbours come over for showers and baths.”

Roffey resident Christina Baxter, who was surprised to see a picture of herself 25 years younger standing by a crushed car in last week’s County Times, contacted the paper to explain the circumstances.

“That picture was my genuine reaction to seeing that car,” said Christina, thinking back to that fateful morning.

“I don’t remember having the picture taken but remember the day after the storm very well.

“I was 21 years old at the time. I worked at the Cisswood House Hotel at Lower Beeding and got up to make my way to work for the breakfast shift.

“However, the bottom of the Brighton Road was blocked by a fallen tree and so I never made it any further.

Although Christina’s home in Bramber Close evaded any damage, she still felt terrible for those that had suffered the brunt of the storm.

“It’s now a distant memory, but at the time it made me realise how lucky I was when so many suffered such terrible losses of their homes and possessions.”

Long time contributor to the County Times, Sandra Monk, sent in never before seen pictures of the wreckage at Broadbridge Heath where she lived.

Sandra explains: “It was a mess the next day, trees down everywhere and no electricity.

“I got my camera, went out and took some shots as I knew that I had the best chance to record the devastation.”

Meanwhile, Lucy Morgan, who was 13 at the time and lived in Billingshurst remembers being warned about the impending storm.

“My uncle rang from France to warn us of a potential hurricane. My dad hurried over to the telly to watch the weather, but Michael Fish said all was going to be fine!”

To this day, BBC’s meteorologist Michael Fish draws criticism for his ‘don’t worry’ statement, after receiving a hurricane alert earlier that day, although it remains small comfort for him that the Great Storm was in fact not a hurricane.

Lucy continued: “Later that night, I awoke to the sound of a thousand whistles and my parents calling in our cat who had decided to go out for a walk. She didn’t return and we were surrounded by trees. It was a fretful night.

“In the morning, the cat sauntered in unharmed but we had no power and had lost a 30 foot silver birch tree.”

From West Chiltington, Kerry Dunbrill sent in a picture of a majestic felled tree.

She said: “The picture is of myself and my cousin Kenny Duke standing in front of a huge oak tree that fell across the road in front of my nan’s house down Juggs Lane.”

The County Times would like to thank all the readers who wrote in with their astonishing accounts and sent in their personal pictures of the Great Storm’s chaotic aftermath.