Updated Sunday 7.20pm with Enemalta information
Gale-force winds lashed Malta early on Sunday morning, uprooting trees, demolishing walls and damaging power lines, but no injuries were reported, a police spokesman told Times of Malta.
The winds, which reached gusts of up to 101 km/hour, caused damage to electricity networks and forced road closures across the whole island. Authorities advised people to stay indoors while Malta Public Transport warned of delays on all its routes.
Civil Protection Department officials were called out to 300 separate sites to clear roads, remove dangerous walls and evacuate people from flooded residences.
The Meteorological Office forecast the strong gale force gregale wind to remain in force until later on Sunday, in one of the worst storms Malta has seen in recent years.
According to Wind Finder, in the early hours of the morning, Malta experienced gusts of winds that are described as a “high threat to life and property”.
The Maltese Islands Weather site said on Sunday morning that the northeast wind was at its strongest in many years.
The 101 km/h (Force 10, almost Force 11) gusts measured by the site’s weather station in Għarb were an all-time record.
People advised to stay indoors
The northeast wind was expected to continue reaching Force 9/10 until around noon, when it would start decreasing very slowly but steadily to become Force 6/7 by the evening.
Authorities advised people to stay indoors unless they needed to travel.
The CPD said it had worked with the police to evacuate homes in Sliema and Vittoriosa which had flooded. People evacuated will be offered alternative housing by the government until their homes are fixed, the Home Affairs Ministry said.
Trees were uprooted in several areas, including on the Rabat road where a large tree completely blocked access. Another tree blocked a road near the airport exit. They were later removed.
Cleansing Department director Ramon Deguara said most of the fallen trees had been cleared in the morning, but that people could expect further collapses.
“A number of large trees were partially uprooted and we’re expecting them to fall soon,” he said, pointing out that the incessant wind and rain was not helping.
The Sliema and St Julian’s promenade was a “total disaster”, he said.
“We still have to quantify the damage. The whole operation is going to take days,” Mr Deguara added.
Among other incidents, a balcony at Portomaso crashed to the ground while a number of old trees at Balluta square were destroyed.
In a bizarre sight, some citizens braved the weather to pick up hundreds of fish which were flung out of the sea onto promenades.
Transport Malta said the storm had knocked out several sets of traffic lights. As of 2pm, traffic lights at the Żabbar junction remained out of order.
Political parties change plans
The storms forced the Nationalist and Labour parties to change their Sunday morning plans.
The closing session of the PN’s general council was postponed to Wednesday evening. A Labour Party activity was cancelled.
Enemalta said that the storm had damaged parts of its distribution network and warned that recovering electricity to affected areas could take longer than usual as weather conditions remained severe.
On Sunday evening, the company said it had fielded more than 1,500 calls from the public and identified 540 faults. Technicians would be working throughout the night to restore electricity to all affected areas, it said.
The company noted that the cold weather and requests for people to remain indoors had also led to a spike in demand for electricity, which was 20 per cent higher than that on the average Sunday.
Flights and buses delayed
Several flights scheduled to take off on Sunday morning were delayed, a Malta International Airport representative confirmed. Turkish Airlines flight Istanbul to Malta and Emirates Malta to Larnaca have been cancelled, five flights have been delayed for one hour, and one flight delayed two hours.
Malta Public Transport warned customers to expect delays to all routes.
“Many roads are closed. This is affecting all bus routes, with buses being diverted by the authorities,” MPT explained.
At 5pm, the company announced on social media that it was suspending all routes servicing St Julian’s and Sliema, on the CPD’s advice.
Gozo ferry operating, Sicily catamaran cancelled
Gozo Channel chairman Joe Cordina confirmed the ferry between Malta and Gozo was operating normally, although vessels were berthed on the far side of Ċirkewwa.
All Virtu Ferries catamaran trips to and from Sicily scheduled for Sunday and Monday were cancelled due to the weather, with additional trips scheduled for Tuesday to compensate.
Cemeteries closed until Monday
The Environmental Health Directorate within the Superintendence of Public Health said all government cemeteries were being closed until Monday nmorning as a precaution.
Boats, balconies wrecked
A power boat came undone at Manoel Island and sank a yacht, sources told Times of Malta. Two other boats in the area came undone and crashed onto rocks in the area.
A sailor said two pontoons had come loose at the Grand Harbour and were currently without power. Scuba divers were working to reconnect them, and boat owners were not being allowed onto the affected pontoons.
“Water levels are rising and falling by shocking amounts,” a sailor aboard a docked vessel told Times of Malta. “It’s freezing here, without power, but I’m glad I’m on board”.
Videos of two separate cranes – one in Sliema, the other in Swieqi – with their steel hoppers swinging dangerously in the high winds prompted concern on social media.
Farmers suffer damage
The Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi said on its Facebook page that the weather wreaked havoc in farmers’ fields with some estimating damages of more than €50,000 and fearing the worst as the wind blew stronger.
“It’s heart-wrenching to wake up for another day of work to find your enterprise in tatters.
“We commend the bravery of our farmers to continue to fight and express solidarity especially with those whose livelihoods have been seriously threatened by these weather events.”
A video posted on Facebook showed the main road in Xemxija full of small fish that had been dragged to land by the rough seas.
Mellieħa plant damaged, evacuated
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Malta’s northwest sewage treatment plant, in Mellieħa, was shut down after developing a fault and then evacuated, following concerns about an unstable three-storey wall.
Dr Muscat made reference to an evacuation of people in a Sliema building, but Times of Malta is informed that the operation was called off.
Referring to the damages suffered by farmers, the Prime Minister said Malta would be seeking to tap EU funds from a solidarity budget, to give them some form of compensation.
Furthermore, Dr Muscat said that a huge clean-up operation would be launched in the coming days to clear the debris all over the island.
He thanked all those involved in the ongoing operation. Dr Muscat spoke also on Gozo, saying such circumstances showed the necessity of having a permanent link.
‘Millions’ in damages – Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia said he had been contacted by farmers who claimed to have suffered “millions” in damages from the storm.
Farmers from the Mġarr community, he said, who were in tears after having their livelihoods destroyed.
Continuing on the weather story, Dr Delia said many people did not even have a roof over their heads to shelter from the storm.
Mifsud Bonnici funeral put off
The funeral of former chief justice Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici was also put off to Tuesday, relatives confirmed to Times of Malta. Judge Mifsud Bonnici passed away on Friday.
Damaged stadium, restaurant
Hibs Stadium incurred significant damage, with trees toppling hoarding and stone boundary walls falling over.
A clip uploaded on social media shows the moment waves destroyed the Buddhamann Restaurant in St Julian’s.
The bad weather started on Saturday afternoon with isolated showers developing into hail storms and the odd thundery spell.
Football matches on Saturday evening were cancelled as was the Malta marathon which was due to be held on Sunday morning. The Nadur carnival planned for Sunday has been postponed to Thursday.
Large marquees used to house carnival floats to be used in carnival celebrations blew over.
Tents set up on the University of Malta’s Tal-Qroqq campus for an upcoming careers fair were also badly damaged, The Yuppie reported on Sunday evening.
A police spokesman said reports of damage came from across the islands.
A large tree near the Addolorata Cemetery completely blocked the road as did another near Hompesh Road in Żabbar.
A flight from Istanbul to Malta was cancelled because of the weather and some flights were also delayed landing. Trees were also uprooted in the vicinity of the runway.
On Friday evening, the Met. Office issued a gregale advisory notice to mariners, warning them of very rough seas tonight and on Sunday as a low pressure zone over the Ionian sea extends over the Maltese islands.
The strong winds were accompanied by a drop in temperature, with the thermometer showing a temperature of 2 degrees Celsius in some areas, colder than most European countries at the moment.
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