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Planes grounded as heavy winds lash Rock

The windy conditions that battered Gibraltar this week grounded planes, ripped up Astro turf at Victoria Stadium, felled trees and disrupted bunkering operations at the port. It was also noisy enough to keep some Rock residents awake at night.
On Tuesday evening, two commercial flights managed to land but were subsequently unable to take off due to the wind, Trevor Hammond, General Manager at Air Traffic Control NATS, told this newspaper.
A military transport plane also made it into Gibraltar but was grounded as a result of wind and debris on the runway, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said.
“While Tuesday saw some windy conditions, it wasn’t until the evening and overnight that there was a considerable strengthening in the wind and a veer more east to southeasterly,” said meteorologist Steph Ball from Meteo Gib.
“While strong ‘easterly’ winds are more common and can still present problems at times for inbound aircraft, this stronger ‘southeasterly flow is a little less common and the very gustiness of its nature presented more of a problem, as we’ve seen.”
The airport was closed for most of its working hours yesterday, with most flights diverted to Málaga.
Closing an airport and grounding planes is “pretty unusual” and “historically happens once every four to five years,” Mr Hammond said, recalling a storm in 2008 during which the ship Fedra ran aground as one of the last times.
Yesterday’s closure was primarily due to foreign object debris (FOD) on the runway, rather than the wind itself, although this was cleared up immediately.
Meanwhile the Gibraltar Government said that the damage suffered at Victoria Stadium was “minor”, describing it as “damage to the mobile goalposts as well substitute benches as well as other minor issues with perimeter fencing.”
“The main damage is obviously to the area behind the north goal where the wind has somehow got under the turf and ripped up certain section,” a government spokesman said.
“Importantly, however the playing area is untouched and as soon as the winds subside the turf seams will be repaired and restored to their original conditions.”
The highest winds this week were recorded on Tuesday night, gusting generally 90-100km/h but with the highest gust at 1am to 56kts or 104km/h, said Mrs Ball.
Yesterday, winds have continued to reach gusts between 85-95km/h, she added.
“Very windy conditions are expected today but with the levanter slowly easing to a moderate or gentle breeze this weekend with more settled conditions,” said Mrs Ball.
The Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service said it had no reports of any major incidents or extensive damage.
“There were some falling trees and signs,” a spokesman said and in addition some roof sheets had to be secured.
Bunkering operations at the Port of Gibraltar were suspended earlier this week as a result of the weather conditions.

Pics by Stephen Ignacio and Johnny Bugeja

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