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The storm "Gudrun" remembered - 10 years on

Published torsdag 8 januari 2015 kl 10.00
"Trees falling like matchsticks"
(3:40 min)
Devastation after the storm. Photo: Ola Hemström/Sveriges Radio
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Devastation after the storm. Photo: Ola Hemström/Sveriges Radio
An area in south-western Småland, a few days after the storm. Photo: Ola Hemström/Sveriges Radio
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An area in south-western Småland, a few days after the storm. Photo: Ola Hemström/Sveriges Radio
70 million m2 trees were felled by the storm. This picture is from July that year, halv a year after the storm. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
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70 million m2 trees were felled by the storm. This picture is from July that year, halv a year after the storm. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
70 million m2 trees were felled by the storm. This picture is from July that year, halv a year after the storm. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
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70 million m2 trees were felled by the storm. This picture is from July that year, halv a year after the storm. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Ten years ago, in the evening of the 8th of January, a devastating storm hit southern Sweden, leaving at least 18 people dead, breaking millions of trees like matchsticks and putting several hundred thousand households out of electricity, some of them for weeks.

The Swedish Met Office, SMHI, had warned that a storm was coming, but no-one could have imagined what was to be. At the time, Sweden was still in shock from the terrible events in south east Asia following the tsunami on Christmas Day. The news coverage was filled with those stories, when the winds started to wreak havoc on Swedish doorsteps.

One lady described how she woke up from a big bang, and she told her husband "that's some thunderstorm that". "Thunder?" he said, "It's not thunder, it the roof that has blown off."

In just five hours, 250 millions trees were knocked over, leaving an area the size of 275,000 football pitches looking like it had been bombed. Communications with the surrounding world were cut as phone lines and mobile phone masts were hit, and as dawn broke, over 700,000 people were without electricity. One man, out working that night, trying to clear roads and electricity lines from fallen trees, said it was a hopeless task.

"Trees are falling like matchsticks here, while you take away one tree, two more fall down" he said.

Many people later used words like "war-zone" and "natural disaster" when trying to put words to that surreal feeling of waking up the next day and looking outside, seeing a completely changed landscape.

"You get out on these roads, and you are lost. It's all so changed, you don't know where you are," a woman told Swedish Radio a few days after the storm.

And police officer Anders Carlsson with Smålandspolisen told the local radio station that, since the night of the storm, they had had at least a hundred different kinds of reports of people gone missing.

"Very often it is about people who have gone out on paths and roads that they have walked since they were kids, but these paths and roads are no more, and they fall into holes created by uprooted threes and they simply lose their bearings," he said.

Seven people were reported having died during the night itself, but another 11 were killed during the dangerous job of clearing the area from fallen trees, during the days, weeks and months that followed.

A local priest also told Swedish Radio of funerals after the storm, where the widow would say her husband simply had not been the same after the storm, seeing his lives work falling to pieces that night, forest which had been taken care of for generations, and that was supposed to be handed down to the children and grand children.

But, ten years after the storm, there are also reports of more positive developments. They way people pitched in, after the storm, to help each other out, the way the whole community pulled together. And the insurance money that was paid out, did make up for some of the loss. And the electricity supply is now more stabile than before, as the electricity companies have dug cables into the ground, instead of running them across electricity pylons.

"I think the wound has healed now, in a way," says the priest Elisabeth Lindow."But," she says "the time, is still defined as either before the storm, or after the storm."

(The storm was given the name "Gudrun" by the Norwegian met office, as that is from where it blew in over Sweden. The routine is to give every other storm a male name, and every other a female name, in alphabetical order.)

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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