‘It felt like the end of the world’

October 1987 Mike Castellano with his damaged car at Kipling Road, North End and, inset, today
October 1987 Mike Castellano with his damaged car at Kipling Road, North End and, inset, today

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Memories of the morning after the night before flooded back today - 25 years after the south started the big clear-up in the wake of the great Storm.

For those whose property was wrecked by the devastating weather in the early hours of October 16, 1987, it was an experience that will never be forgotten.

Mike Castellano

Mike Castellano

Mike Castellano was 27 at the time of the storm and remembers it well.

The 53-year-old IT engineer, of Courtmount Grove, East Cosham, said: ‘I was working shifts at IBM at the time and I finished at 10pm. I was meeting my friend at my house afterwards and they had taken the last parking space. I parked on double yellows and moved it when he left.

‘I didn’t hear a thing in the night and then someone came and knocked on my door at 8am and said “I think your car has sustained some damage during the storm”. I said, “Oh, it’ll be all right” and they said, “It won’t”.

‘I looked round the corner and couldn’t see my car, I could only see a great big tree lying diagonally across it.

‘In fact, it looked a lot worse than it was. I rang the council and as I was explaining that a tree had fallen on my car I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I realised how ridiculous it all was.

‘The council arrived with a digger, took the tree off and the front suspension sprung back to normal. I had that gold Opal Manta for another 18 months after that.

‘I bought The News book about it and I’ve shown my son Ian. He is very amused at the photograph of me. I don’t have the car, the hair or the clothes anymore.’

‘It looked like the end of the world,’ recalls John Hill.

The 50-year-old owner of Funlands on Beachlands, Hayling Island, was one of thousands of businessmen and homeowners who could only watch in horror as their livelihoods were swept away by the Great Storm overnight on October 15 and 16, 1987.

He rushed down to the funfair as the high winds battered the coast.

He remembers: ‘The unusual thing was it wasn’t actually forecast. But the wind got up and we all got out there.

‘I was living in a flat over the road at the time and we could hear everything rattling. At about 10pm we went out and tied the helter skelter down by putting ropes round it and tying it to a forklift truck because it was the tallest structure we had at the time.

‘We took half of the 12 cars off the big wheel because they were swinging in the wind and we didn’t want them to smash each other to pieces.

‘As the wind got worse we got very concerned about the dodgems track. It started to lift off.

‘I don’t mind admitting it, we were all very scared.

‘It was like nothing we had ever seen in our lives. We felt sure we were going to lose the dodgems – it was unbelievable.

‘It was dangerous out there – things were flying around.

‘We were out until about 2am and by the end of it there was nothing else we could do except go to bed and hope for the best.

‘When we woke up in the morning there was the big wheel on its side. I felt like crying.

‘There was debris everywhere over the road. It looked terrible. It was very disheartening. Imagine seeing what you do for a living just lying there.

‘But we saved the dodgems and the helter skelter. If it wasn’t for the big wheel going over we would have got away with next to no damage.

‘We cleared up everything that we could and over the next couple of days we took it apart and realised there wasn’t too much damage. It had fallen on another ride and didn’t damage that too much either which was lucky because we weren’t insured. We were unlucky, but also lucky.’

The storm wreaked havoc across the south, ripping up ancient woodland, taking roofs off houses and causing the deaths of 18 people with winds of up to 134mph recorded – the worst hurricane the country has ever seen.

There was no warning from forecasters and people were totally unprepared for the battering that ensued.

In Clarence Parade, Southsea, trees were torn from the earth and landed on cars. A homeowner was left counting the cost in Suffolk Road when the side of their house collapsed. And in Copnor Road a telephone box was picked up and dropped further along the street.

Mr Hill says: ‘We discovered over the next few days that everyone had their own problems. Trees were down everywhere. Some people were badly affected. None of us were expecting a hurricane, no one knew what a hurricane was like. It was terrible.

‘It was unbelievable, I will never forget it. I’ve experienced high winds before but nothing like that. It felt like the end of the world. It was howling and very, very dark. I think the lights had all gone.

‘We had a fair bit of damage but no one was hurt and that was the main thing.’

Paul Bowden is the transport manager of Build Base, in Burrfields Road, Portsmouth, which was formerly GA Day.

The timber centre suffered massive damage and Paul was there when it happened.

He said: ‘I was the key holder at the time and I went out because all the alarms were going off because the winds were so strong. I stood in the yard and watched all the fence panels blowing away.

‘It was about 2am to 3am. Suddenly there was a big rumble and the timber centre roof lifted off and dropped back down on itself. All the wood was poking out through the top. The walls had buckled on all sides. There was stuff blowing around all over the place and there was nothing we could do about it so we stayed inside the building watching it. We couldn’t go outside, it was too dangerous.

‘We waited until the wind had abated in the morning and called the managing director to tell him the timber centre had gone. He was very surprised.

‘It took a couple of days for us to tidy up but it took three or four months to build a new timber centre.’