SCOTLAND was on high alert as high winds battered the country today.
The East of Scotland felt the full fury of the storms by around 3pm but the winds had caused widespread chaos all morning.
The Forth road bridge, which had been expected to stay open until the afternoon, was closed to all vehicles by 10.30am after a gust of 84mph was detected.
A worker said: “We’ll wait to hear what the weather reports say but it won’t be open for the rest of the day.”
A nearby dog walker warned: “If you walked across that bridge the wind would sweep you right over.
“The wind is bad enough in the summer, never mind in a hurricane. It’s lethal to be out and about in these winds.”
Despite the closure of the bridge, traffic problems were minimal. It seemed most drivers had got the message and simply stayed away.
Another worker said: “You sometimes get the odd lunatic who wants to get across the bridge because they’re in a rush. I’ve even seen people going the wrong way down the slip road trying to get across. But they never get across, we always manage to stop them.
“But we haven’t had any problems today. It’s been very quiet because we announced it early in the day that it would be shut so drivers are obviously taking it seriously this time.”
A driver on the Fife side of the bridge had a lucky escape after a tree crashed down on top of his vehicle.
Staff at a nearby hotel said the Ford hatchback was partially crushed by the impact although the driver escaped unscathed.
Fife Fire and Rescue said they had dealt with 18 weather-related incidents by 4pm, including structural damage.
The brigade said it had issued advice to homeowners to secure their trampolines after attending incidents involving flying garden furniture.
Footage on YouTube was posted today which appeared to show a trampoline cartwheeling down a Scottish street.
Last night, Fife Police were investigating the tragic death of a 47-year-old woman whose car collided with a bus in Kennoway in the morning. Three passengers on the bus were treated for minor injuries.
Local bus drivers claimed the vehicle had been blown in to the path of the bus by storm-force winds. Asked if the accident was weather-related, a force spokesman would only say: “No.”
There was major disruption to the motorway network to the west of Edinburgh after a lorry overturned at Newbridge on the M9 shortly after 10.30am.
The accident happened near to Edinburgh Airport, where the gales caused disruption to flights.
One passenger, a tourist fromOregon,USA, gave a vivid account of the pilot’s repeated attempts to land.
Alyssa Powell, on a KLM flight from Barcelona this morning, said: “It was absolutely terrifying flying in. The plane felt like it was going to crash.
“I was freaking out. We were on our descent and were just about to touch down when all of a sudden we took off again.
“The pilot said it was too windy so we circled four more times before we could land.”
By early afternoon, 17 flights had been cancelled, seven departures and ten arrivals.
A Flybe spokeswoman said it had diverted some flights to Newcastle due to the adverse weather.
She said: “Passengers were then transported by road to Edinburgh.
“The safety of its passengers and crew is the airline’s number one priority.
“Flybe regrets any inconvenience experienced due the weather conditions that are entirely beyond its control.”
Train services in the area were also badly affected.
A notice at Edinburgh’s Waverley station warned passengers that “adverse weather” is causing severe disruptions on all routes.
All routes to Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee were suspended until further notice.
Huge numbers of passengers huddling around the timetable looked resigned to the fact that they may be delayed for some time.
Hairdresser Lauren, who declined to give her surname, said: “My boss said I should go home just in case I got delayed. I’m trying to get home to Linlithgow but I don’t know how long it will take.”
The 17-year-old added: “I know it’s windy but I think people are being overly cautious about the whole thing.”
Another woman working for Edinburgh Council, who asked not to be named, aid that she and her colleagues received an email instructing them to go home as soon as possible using public transport.
She said: “I’m trying to get home to South Queensferry. I’ve been waiting for a while, but nothing’s been updated. You just literally have to stand under the timetable and hope for an update.
“I might try and get the bus, because the delays here are ridiculous. Who know how long it will take to get home.”
Public services acrossEdinburgh, the Lothians and Fife were all badly affected.
NHS Lothian said non-essential staff had been sent home and ‘minimal safe staffing is in place at all of our facilities’.
All day hospitals sent patients home and the health board said it did not expect patients to turn up for outpatient appointments.
Dr Alison McCallum, Director of Public Health and Health Policy for NHS Lothian said: “These are extreme weather conditions and we have put in place our full business continuity plans to ensure essential services continue to operate.
“We are in constant contact with our colleagues in Lothian and Borders Police and the councils in Lothian to monitor the latest situation and will issue updates as required.”
Edinburgh Council, in common with other councils in the area, closed its schools at noon. All city leisure venues were closed at 2pm.
Edinburgh Castle was shut, as was the Walter Scott monument on Princes Street.
Historic Scotland said several other tourist attractions, including Dunfermline Palace and Abbey, also had to close.
No structural damage had been reported at any of the sites by late afternoon, although a Historic Scotland spokesman said they would be keeping an eye on all buildings.
EdinburghUniversityannounced it would shut from 3pm.
Lothian and Borders Police closed fourWest Lothianstations to the public at 1.30pm, blaming the high winds.
Assistant Chief Constable at Lothian and Borders Police Bill Skelly said: “The weather has already had a significant impact on the roads network in our area, with the Forth Road Bridge closed to traffic.
“The high winds are also causing problems for high-sided vehicles.
“We are receiving continuous updates from the Met Office advising of severe weather, and I would ask the public to pay close attention to weather and road updates and act accordingly.
“Rest assured that this advice is not given lightly, but is based on ensuring public safety.”
Chief Constable David Strang, who chaired a meeting of public bodies to co-ordinate a response to the crisis, said: “Many services, including education, have been disrupted and there has been serious impact on travel.
“During this spell, I would urge the public to take extra care and refer to information which is available from a number of sources, including our own organisations’ websites.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh Zoo assured the nation that Scotland’s newest residents, giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, are safe and well.
We had to close the zoo today because of severe weather conditions. This will have no effect on the welfare of the giant pandas, who are both settling in extremely well. Tian Tian and Yang Guang will be kept indoors today, where they will be safe and comfortable during the winter storms.”