MALTA DIARY: Wind, rain and thunder … and the heavens were split asunder – Malta’s worst storm in decades
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The biblical Gospel of St Luke (who was a medical doctor in his time and the chronicler of St Paul of Tarsus) informed us in his chronicles that whilst Paul was under Roman arrest and on his way to Rome to undergo trial, he and St Paul were shipwrecked in Malta – known as Melita at the time, in about 60AD.
Neither the month nor the time of the year was mentioned in the description of the shipwreck that made St Paul the Patron Saint of Malta.
About 200 years ago Malta’s leading Church authorities met to establish a date to be declared a National Holiday to commemorate the shipwreck and very wisely chose the 10th of February – a month in which Malta is most prone to storms and high winds.
The weekend of Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th February this year will long be remembered when the worst storm for decades swept across the islands in a 24-hour fury that caused total chaos. Had St Paul been around, a prisoner in a Roman galley, there is little doubt shipwreck would have been most probable.
Winds of 133 kilometres per hour swept across the small islands and although extensive damages were caused and recorded, fortunately, there were no deaths or injuries.
Yet hang on a minute – these are the sun-baked Maltese Islands in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, a stone’s throw from the North African coastline. On the 24th and 25th of February most of Northern Europe was basking in sunshine and warm weather!
Lyn Funnel wrote and said she had spent the weekend sunbathing in her garden – in February – in Sussex – in England!
A contact who was in Lille, France, at the northern tip of the country, wrote at the time and told me that a temperature of 32 degrees had been recorded during the day!
Hence the contrast as the 133 kilometre per hour north westerly, a virtual hurricane, began sweeping across Malta on Saturday evening and continued for the whole day on Sunday, accompanied by thunder storms and buckets of hail and rain.
The Malta Met Office reported this was the worst storm to hit Malta since 1982, that is the worst in 36 years and it caused damages, damages now being estimated to reach millions of euros, the worst hit being the entire agricultural sector, fishing boats moored in inlets, trees and branches falling on vehicles, collapsing walls and damaged buildings, masts and wires – and roadside kiosks.
Scores of solar panels were blown off roofs as were water tank covers and all kinds of junk. In Gudja a farm wall collapsed and a herd of cows went a.w.o.l. along Gudja’s main roads!
With Carnival looming the next weekend, the storm naturally affected floats and preparations.
All media broadcast and posted continual warnings for people to stay indoors unless they absolutely had to go out and the screeching and howling wind and buckets of rain were certainly not inductive to anything except to stay curled up in bed at home.
The armed forces and other security forces worked relentlessly for 24 hours with the Civil Protection Department having to make over 500 calls to assist people in distress. Some homes had to be evacuated because of flooded basements and electricity perils.
Over the following 48 hours, cleaning personnel collected 200 tons of debris from the streets with most of the work concentrated on Xemxija, Spinola, Balluta and Ta’ Xbiex promenade.
HOWEVER, every cloud has its silver lining and that which is highly detrimental to some becomes highly profitable for others. The rough seas and strong winds caused havoc in fish farms at sea on the northern side of Malta as their cages were smashed open releasing thousands of sea bream into the open sea.
The strong sea current dragged the fish inland and landed them on sandy beaches and rocks and in areas where a road is close to the shoreline, onto the roads.
Regardless of all the warnings, hundreds flocked to such areas and picked and loaded buckets and buckets of struggling bream and reaped a marine bonanza. Even when the storm subsided on the following day, fishermen were out in droves all around Malta and Gozo with their rods and landed bonanza catches!
Naturally, not all damages (particularly agricultural) are covered by insurance but the damage has been so extensive the Government has pledged to compensate and will be appealing to the EU for additional funds.
Pictures courtesy of Karl Glanville, Television Malta (PBS/TVM), the Times of Malta and the Malta Independent.
“He who sleeps catches no fish”.
The equivalent of the early bird catches the worm. To get anywhere you have to be on your toes and at the ready.