Borders stand up to gale-force winds as region is hit by storm

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by Kirsty Smyth

Berwickshire is recovering from last week’s severe gale force winds and heavy rain which saw the region experiencing storm conditions throughout Thursday, December 8 and into the early hours of Friday, December 9.

Festive lights throughout the region were switched off for public safety after the Met Office issued a red warning for wind of up to 90mph, and one village almost lost its Christmas spirit completely when its little fir tree was whipped away by the wind.

The people of Swinton were worried their lights switch on, due to take place last Friday, would be a bit of a damp squib when their Christmas tree, which had yet to be erected, disappeared in the storm.

“The joke was it was at Leitholm, but I don’t think it was quite as far as that,” said Swinton Community Council chair Meg Reid. “Luckily it was found and brought back in time for Santa arriving to switch the lights on on Friday.”

Scottish Borders Council adopted a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach in response to the Met Office red warning last week, which they say are rarely issued for wind.

A yellow flood alert warning was also issued for the Borders with heavy rain and snow melt expected to coincide with the gale-force winds.

As well as asking communities to switch off their Christmas lights last Wednesday, until appropriate electrical checks had been carried out, Scottish Borders Council also took the decision to close schools last Thursday afternoon as a precaution, and all non-essential council staff were sent home at 1pm.

Community venue and hall bookings were cancelled, mobile libraries did not run and public libraries and museums closed early.

As the storm hit last Thursday, Scottish Borders Council (SBC) environment and infrastructure staff worked closely with the police and fire service to respond to any emergency issues throughout the evening such as tree clearance, as well as routine gritting duties.

In all the council responded to a total of 26 call-outs, 19 of which were in relation to trees. The other call-outs included concerns in relation to property and flooding.

Part of the A1107 was shut at Coldingham until a wind turbine at Bogan Green was made safe.

In Dunbar a heavy goods vehicle blew over in a layby on the A1 near Torness Nuclear Power Station. The driver was not trapped but was checked over by an ambulance crew. Firefighters from Dunbar and East Linton made the lorry safe.

Alison Lange, manager of Dunbar Day Centre for older people, took the decision to close the facility as she felt it would be a risk to bring members in by minibus.

Calm was restored by Friday morning (December 9) when all SBC-run schools and nurseries re-opened. But SBC chief executive Tracey Logan said that council’s decision to shut schools on Thursday had been the right one.

“I am very pleased that we have managed to get through this period of severe weather without any reported issues,” she said.

“With the benefits of hindsight, it is good to see that we made the right decision to close schools at lunchtime and send our staff home early. This ensured everyone got home safely, before the worst of the storm reached the area.”

She insisted: “As always, the safety of our pupils and staff is paramount in these situations and our priority is always to maintain essential services such as care for our vulnerable customers, which we also succeeded in doing.”

Council Leader, Councillor David Parker said the council had had to make important decisions quickly when it received news of the coming storm. “I am confident that we made the right decisions at the right time to ensure all our residents were as well-informed as possible and therefore could stay safe when the worst of the storm hit us,” he said.

“Yes we had to close schools at lunchtime (on the Thursday), but in light of the conditions we experienced, if we hadn’t made the decision when we did, I hate to think what the repercussions could have been.”

He added: “I am delighted with the operation that took place in the Borders, and I would like to congratulate all the council staff and colleagues from our partner agencies who have once again, gone out their way to keep the region on the move and ensure all essential services were maintained.

“Through the close partnership working of our council staff, Lothian and Borders Police and Fire and Rescue Service, we have once again, co-ordinated a very efficient operation which led to the Scottish Borders being up and running on Friday, December 9.”