Gales leave disruption and a trail of destruction

HEAVY winds wreaked chaos across the Capital yesterday as gusts of up to 80mph battered the city, downing trees and playing havoc with public transport.

• Heavy winds brought down trees and caused traffic disruption across Edinburgh. Police closed the northbound section of Queen Street Gardens west after a branch of a tree fell onto a passing car

Severe gale force winds blew across the city for much of yesterday, causing damage to buildings and sending trees crashing down on to cars.

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The winds were set to die down today, but not before Monday's blustery conditions had left a trail of destruction in their wake.

Wind speeds of more than 80mph were recorded at the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill, the Met Office said.

• In Pictures: Weather causes chaos and destruction in Edinburgh

It led to top attractions such as Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh Castle and the Botanics closing, while the Forth Road Bridge was closed to all vehicles ahead of the busy evening rush hour - re-opening by 8pm.

There was severe disruption to rail services in and out of the Capital after high winds affected overhead power lines and deposited debris on the tracks.

Across the city the weather brought down trees and caused masonry to fall from buildings, while an investigation was launched after part of Edinburgh Airport's roof blew off.

As severe conditions continued into the evening, the bus station in St Andrew Square had to be closed for the night after parts of the roof came off, with buses re-routed to St Andrew Square itself. The bus station remained closed this morning

In one incident, police closed Queen Street Gardens West to traffic after a large branch fell on to a moving Mini, although the driver was unhurt.

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Later both Queen Street Gardens and Princes Street Gardens were closed to the public amid fears of falling branches.

Fire crews were called to at least two other similar incidents. At one, near Cousland Farm, Seafield, West Lothian, a falling tree crushed a passing vehicle around 3.45pm, forcing fire crews to cut the roof from the vehicle to free the driver, who had minor injuries.

In another, three occupants of a Ford were trapped when a tree landed on the vehicle near Archerfield House, Dirleton, East Lothian also around 3.45pm.

They were helped to escape by staff from a nearby golf club and taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with lacerations to their heads and hands, and back injuries.

On the M9, a lorry was blown over by a gust of wind at 2.15pm, causing the motorway to be closed westbound at Winchburgh for a time. The driver was injured in the incident, and was taken to St John's Hospital in Livingston for treatment.

This morning, police said Riversdale Crescent in Edinburgh was blocked off by a tree that fell on a parked taxi.

In Wester Hailes a chunk of masonry fell from a block of flats in Westburn Grove, narrowly missing residents.

Tony Fraser, 51, said: "There was a piece of cladding about 6ft by 4ft which fell right across the entrance to the building.

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"Somebody could have been killed and there was another piece hanging off the building which looked really, really dangerous.

"The piece that came off crashed down and smashed all over the ground. It's pretty scary just to look at - it definitely would have killed someone.

"I'm going to go out through my window until they get it fixed - I'm not going to take a chance."

Edinburgh Zoo said it had taken the decision to close after the "wild" weather raised the risk of trees falling on visitors. A spokeswoman said: We have a lot of trees on site and some of them are very old.

"We have put visitor safety first. Visitors have been offered either a refund or the chance to visit another day.

"It's been over 12 months since the last time we had to close due to high winds."

Alan Bennell, head of visitor services at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: "The garden has an overriding concern for the safety of its visitors and in exceptionally windy conditions it has to exclude the public from the landscaped grounds, to avoid any risk of damage from falling trees or their branches.

"With more than 1800 exotic specimens around the site, despite excellent standards of maintenance, there is always a slight risk from violent gusts."

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The Met Office issued a weather warning for "exceptionally windy weather", particularly across central and southern parts of the country.

The possible impact of the severe winds was also raised at a meeting of Scottish Government's emergency committee yesterday, with Transport Minister Keith Brown warning drivers to plan their journeys and listen out for travel updates.

However, forecasters said they expected the worst of the weather to have passed, with the heavy winds easing off today.

The Met Office's Peter Sloss said: "It's been an improving picture overnight. We saw gusts of around 70mph continue into the early evening and it will still be quite windy today, but the speeds will be down.

"This has been caused by a deep area of low pressure which is very unusual for this time of year. Once this low moves away things will return to normal."

Night shifts for crews as trees and branches tumble

EMERGENCY forestry teams worked through the night to clear fallen trees and debris that had blocked roads and left commuters and residents stranded.

The police and fire services said they had been inundated with calls reporting damage and debris throughout yesterday afternoon and evening.

The Evening News found falling trees on stationary vehicles in Dalmeny Street in Leith, Marionville Road in Meadowbank, and in Bruntsfield.

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Other major roads where trees had been blown over included Crewe Road South in Fettes, Sir Harry Lauder Road and Hope Lane North in Portobello and on Abbeyhill close to Holyrood.

In one case a huge tree, more than 100-years-old, was blown down on to Leith Links Bowling Club.

Resident David McDonald, 54, said: "I didn't hear it because the wind was so loud but I looked out and saw it had been blown down onto the club.

"I couldn't believe the wind could be so strong as to bring such a large tree down. It could be as old as 150 years"

Both Queen Street Gardens and Princes Street Gardens were closed to the public amid fears of falling branches.