A MAJOR clear-up operation is under way across the north of Scotland in the aftermath of storms and flooding caused by the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha, which tonight continued to leave rail links to the Highlands cut off.
As the Scottish Government pledged emergency funding to deal with clear-up costs, rail services connecting Inverness with Perth and Aberdeen were still out of action today.
The storm, which saw up to a month’s rainfall in one night in some places, caused major damage across both rail routes.
At Kingussie, floodwaters three feet deep caused a section of the track bed to wash away, while several other locations on the Highland main line were left buried under mud and debris.
On the Inverness-Aberdeen line, at several locations between Elgin and Keith, the track remained underwater, while the Lossie viaduct had to be inspected by specialist divers to ensure the structure had not been damaged by the floodwaters.
Alex Sharkey, Network Rail area director for the East of Scotland, said: “The sheer volume of water deposited on the tracks over such a short period of time has caused extensive damage in some locations.
“Our engineers are working around the clock to carry out all repairs necessary for the safe reopening of the lines and we will restore a full service for train operators as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, finance secretary John Swinney has activated the Bellwin Scheme – designed to reimburse local authorities over natural disasters – after representations from Moray Council, the worst-affected area.
He said: “We know, and I have seen for myself, just how devastating the effects of flooding can be for our communities.
“As the full impact on local communities continues to be assessed, we stand ready to provide urgent assistance.”
Elgin’s £86 million flood alleviation scheme which is currently being constructed was put to a severe test as the area was hit by the remnants of the former hurricane.
Two hundred homes were evacuated at one stage on Monday over fears the River Lossie would burst its banks.
Moray Council leader Allan Wright said: “The flood defences have held. It was a close-run thing because the flood scheme in Elgin has not yet been completed. But it held and we all breathed a sigh of relief before we went to bed.”
He added: “It is now a clean-up business, checking the roads and the damage that has been done. The worst-hit place in Moray was the village of Dallas. There was a lot of water damage in houses so that will be an early focus on helping to clean up.”
There were still 18 flood alerts, mainly in Moray and Aberdeenshire, last night.
Properties in parts of Aberdeenshire were also evacuated as river water levels rose. In Huntly, residents in local care homes were moved to the town’s Jubilee hospital, while about 150 people staying in a caravan park in Ballater were also forced to leave.
In the Highland Council area, the clear-up operation continues on the A835, East of Ullapool at Leckmelm, which is used by motorists travelling to reach the Stornoway Ferry. It is estimated that 600 tonnes of debris will need to be excavated.