The Bristol Channel is used to storms. Winter or summer, they come sweeping in from the west, hammering at the coastline and playing havoc with shipping in the western approaches.

But no storm was more severe or more dangerous than the great storm of September 1908.

The Bristol Channel is a dangerous area of water because of its strong tides

The storm began on the afternoon and evening of Monday 31 August, when the wind strengthened, the barometer fell and torrential rain squalls began to hit the coast.

By morning of 1 September the gale had increased to hurricane proportions, with winds reaching upwards of 80 and even 90 miles an hour.

All day the storm raged; the winds only finally died away on the Wednesday morning. What they left in their wake was a trail of destruction and disaster that stretched right along the coast of south Wales, from Pembrokeshire in the west to Newport and Gwent in the east.

At places like the steelworks in Port Talbot huge cranes had been toppled as if they were made from a child's building blocks, while trees were uprooted and roofs ripped off the tops of buildings all across the country.

Roads were flooded or blocked by fallen debris while the main railway between Cardiff and Swansea closed because of trees across the line.

Huge hailstones battered at the windows of houses along the coast and enormous flashes of lightning lit up the sky. Terrified farm animals ran for shelter and nobody moved outside their homes unless it was an essential journey.

As might be expected, however, it was at sea that the most dangerous problems occurred. With waves of nearly 60 feet many captains wisely decided to remain in port but for those on voyage when the storm broke there was little option but to brave the elements and trust to fortune.

The Helwick lightship, moored out in the entrance to the Channel, was so badly damaged by the waves that her crew was forced to radio for help. The Tenby lifeboat carried out a courageous rescue, the lifeboat men rowing for over six hours to bring the stranded sailors to shore.

The barque Verajean, running up the Channel before the storm, was caught and driven ashore onto the rocks of Rhoose Point.

Luckily the crew all managed to escape and the unlucky sailing ship lay on the sand and shingle for many weeks, dismasted and abandoned, a sudden and unusual tourist attraction for the Vale of Glamorgan.

A more serious disaster took place on the sands near Margam when the Amazon was also driven ashore. Captain Garrick had tried to ride out the gale, anchored off the Mumbles headland, but at 6am on 1 September the Amazon's cables parted and the ship was driven eastwards.

At 8am she was thrown up, bow first, onto Margam Sands. Pounded by the waves, the stricken vessel swung sideways on to the storm.

Several men tried to swim ashore but most of them were immediately lost in the huge seas. When the Port Talbot Lifesaving Company arrived on the scene only two men were left alive on the ship. Twenty-one of the crew were drowned, including Captain Garrick and five young apprentices. There were just eight survivors.

When the storm finally died on the morning of Wednesday 2 September, it was time to count the cost. Luckily there had been no fatalities on land but damage to houses and industrial plants amounted to a sum well in excess of £200,000.

These days that figure would be in the millions. Dozens of small boats had been tossed up onto shore by the waves and many people had been cut and injured by falling slates and trees.

The Great Storm of 1908 was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the south Wales coast. Small wonder people, when witnessing such fury, would thank their stars they were safe on land and whisper to themselves "God help sailors on a night like this."

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