Gibraltar experienced major disruption yesterday as severe weather conditions and winds of up to 107 km per hour caused scaffolding to collapse, with knock-on effects for schools, businesses and motorists.
Although no one was seriously hurt, the stormy conditions brought chaos and gridlock to many of Gibraltar’s roads during the morning rush hour.
Across many areas of Gibraltar, there was damage to infrastructure and building sites. One minor, non-life-threatening injury was reported to Accident and Emergency as a direct consequence of the winds.
Commuters coming in from Spain faced lengthy delays on flooded roads where the sea had swept over coastal wave breakers on the approach to the border.
The impact of the storm in Gibraltar resulted in schools, roads and some businesses being shut as Gibraltar’s emergency services put a number of safety measures into place.
Large amounts of scaffolding fell from the Ocean Spa Plaza building site and caused some damage to St Anne’s School.
As a result both St Anne’s and Bayside School were closed as were Bayside Road and Glacis Road.
No one was hurt in the incident, which took place in the early hours of the morning.
In a statement Ocean Spa Plaza said: “At approximately 02.30 this morning, severe gale force winds penetrated the protective covering on the upper floors of the Ocean Spa Plaza site and tore apart many dozens of steel eye bolts and bent the scaffolding poles.”
“As a result, a portion of the site scaffolding became unsecure and was detached from the building,” the statement read.
Gilbert Licudi, who has ministerial responsibility for civil contingencies, has requested a full report on the scaffolding at Ocean Spa Plaza from the Health and Safety Inspectorate and a full investigation will be conducted.
“The senior Health and Safety Officer was on site from the early hours of the morning when he was first notified of the incident,” a government spokesman said.
“The immediate issue is to make sure that the area is made safe, after which a full investigation will naturally follow.”
Damage to trees and structures at St Martin’s School and Notre Dame Schools meant that parents were contacted and allowed to pick up their children from school early.
In the early afternoon it was decided that Bayside Comprehensive School, St Anne’s School, Notre Dame School and St Martin’s School will also remain closed today in order for proper risk assessments to be conducted and for any necessary repair works to be carried out.
During the course of yesterday morning, a Royal Gibraltar Police officer was involved in an accident on Winston Churchill Avenue, where he came off his motorbike while on duty conducting traffic.
He was taken to the St Bernard’s hospital with a suspected fractured ankle where tests determined he had sustained a bad sprain. He had no other injuries.
Additionally, road closures, in particular Bayside Road and Glacis Road, caused heavy traffic congestion throughout Gibraltar.
As a result and in an attempt to not worsen the traffic situation the Commercial Gate at the Frontier was closed to vehicles entering Gibraltar.
In a statement the Government said it understands that private vehicles and pedestrians were allowed to cross the frontier into Gibraltar freely, although there were delays due to the congestion within Gibraltar.
Bayside Road and Glacis Road are expected to re-open by this morning, subject to the Ocean Spa Plaza site being made safe.
Small businesses such as the Kasbar closed for the day yesterday feeling that it was too unsafe for some of their staff members who live in Spain to come into Gibraltar, especially on bicycle.
Other businesses noted that the day was quieter than normal as many people stayed at home to avoid the storm.
In yet another development yesterday, a rock fall on Sir Herbert Miles Road caused the closure of the road from the MOT Test Centre to Catalan Bay.
The reopening of the road will be subject to further site inspections.
The road closure affected many of the visiting chess players in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival making their way to the Caleta Hotel for the Gibraltar Masters in the afternoon.
The organisers took the decision to hold back the clocks at 3pm for all those players who had not been able to arrive on time. However, against all odds the players made it to the hotel safe and sound with all the games well under way by 4pm.
The Upper Rock Nature Reserve was closed yesterday morning as a precaution, as was the Gorham’s Cave interpretation centre.
The Upper Rock will remain closed until today, except to residents of the area.
The runway was also closed to inbound and outbound flights due to debris, with all flights diverted to Malaga.
The wind caused a boulder at one end of runway to knock over a strobe light, which is used as an approach aid.
It is expected that the runway will re-open in time to service this afternoon’s scheduled flights.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Colin Ramirez, told the Chronicle that by mid-afternoon calls to the Fire and Rescue department had dissipated somewhat.
Although they received no major incident calls throughout the day, firefighters answered 35 separate call outs.
In doing so they dealt with situations such as loose masonry or corrugated sheets and minor rock falls. They did not conduct any rescues.
Throughout the day, waves lashed the shoreline around the Rock. The swell also swept over the Detached Mole and into the harbour basin, although there was no report of any damage at key sites including the new power station.
At Rosia and Camp Bay, the sea swept across the promenade and the area was abandoned save for a handful of keen photographers and dog walkers.
Europa Point also took a battering, with waves crashing over the cliff face onto the road above and powerful winds shaking the few vehicles that made their way up there yesterday.
The Gibraltar Port Authority instigated its adverse weather procedure during the course of Sunday night.
Throughout the day eight vessels were assisted by the port in order to withstand the adverse weather conditions. No search and rescue assistance was required.
A number of buildings in the port area suffered damage as a result of the storm.
The Cruise Liner Terminal sustained some flooding and damage to the doors, and there was also damage to an adjacent building and to the roof of a storage building.
This damage will be fully assessed once the adverse weather conditions subside.
Throughout the day yesterday, the emergency response to the weather was coordinated by the Civil Contingency Committee, which met in No 6 Convent Place early yesterday in the wake of heavy wind conditions experienced since Sunday afternoon.
The Government inspected all its building sites to assess any overnight damage and to make them secure.
“Today we have withstood the effects of very serious, abnormal wind conditions,” Mr Licudi said.
“I am grateful to the emergency services, teachers and technical staff for quickly working to mitigate the effects of these conditions and to keep Gibraltar safe.”
“I would also like to thank the parents of the children at Bayside, Notre Dame, St Anne’s and St Martin’s schools for their co-operation and understanding, which in turn allowed the Government to make the necessary inspections and repair any damage as quickly as possible.”
“Where there has been damage, I have requested full reports from the Health and Safety Inspectorate and a full investigation will be conducted with regards to the Ocean Spa Plaza site.”
Following her early predication of the storm’s arrival over a week ago, locally based meteorologist Stephanie Ball from MeteoGib keep her social media followers and local media informed as the Rock was battered by high winds.
She advised that there would still be high winds today, but not as severe as yesterday’s.