The roofs of 21 football pitch-sized whisky warehouses where more than 100million gallons of malt whisky are stored have collapsed under the weight of snow.
Many of the valuable casks lay hidden beneath metal roofing sheets last night in the Chivas Regal brand buildings of the French company Pernod Ricard, which also owns the Strathisla Distillery at Keith.
The company was said to be considering spraying de-icing chemicals that are normally used on airport runways and using ton-sized heaters in their battle against the ice.
A source close to the company said the roofing had given way in 20 buildings at the company’s 120-acre maturation site called Malcolmburn at Mulben, near Keith.
He said the roof of another warehouse in Alexandra Road had also caved in.
He said: “The ice has frozen on the roof and it can’t go down the drain pipes and get away. It just lies there. The weight of the fresh snow just adds to it.”
A company spokesman last night said the damage was still being assessed and he could not confirm the number of buildings damaged.
He added: “We are experiencing issues with some of our warehouse roofs under the weight of snow and ice.
“There have been no injuries and no spirit loss has been detected. As a precaution Chivas Brothers’ two major maturation sites in Speyside (Mulben and Keith) have been closed to day-to-day operations until the weather abates.”
The company employs about 200 staff in Moray and the product is exported to some 200 countries. The most expensive whisky maturing is the 38-year-old £350-per-bottle Royal Salute, a spokesman said.
Moray MP Angus Robertson said: “With the impact of the whisky industry to Speyside as a whole, everyone will be hoping that the damage is not serious.”
A Scotch Whisky Association spokesman said member companies had been warned to be vigilant.
Whisky giant Diageo, which also has maturation warehouses in the area, said they were monitoring the situation regularly but currently had no issues.
Heavy snow at Keith also threatened the roof at the town’s Tesco store at Moss Street.
A company spokeswoman said the store was closed briefly on Wednesday afternoon to carry out roof checks as a precaution but was “absolutely fine”.
Snow and ice are also wreaking havoc across other parts of Moray yesterday.
Two steadings roofs are believed to have caved in at two farms at Dallas. It is not known if cattle were injured.
Both farmers were unavailable for comment.
Cattle on a Banffshire farm escaped uninjured after the roof of the steading in which they were kept collapsed under the weight of snow.
The 100 cows and 40 weaned calves at Torbay Farm, Dufftown, were transferred to other housing after the building’s roof fell on top of them. Owner Allan Ross, of Wardhead, Strichen, said it was a “miracle” all the animals escaped.
Almost half of Moray’s 53 schools are expected to remain closed today. Buckie and Speyside High Schools, and Keith Grammar School will be shut, as will 22 primaries.
Moray College has also been affected, with all students advised to stay at home until Monday at the earliest. Staff have been advised to attend if possible.
Seafield Primary at Bishopmill, Elgin, opened as usual, but one parent decided to keep her 11-year-old daughter Brooke off, claiming the school’s heating supply was not up to scratch.
Alison Kennedy, of the town’s Whytes Place, said pupils had been forced to sit with their jackets on when the heating broke down before Christmas, and claimed a burst pipe meant the youngsters were left in the cold again yesterday.
The 47-year-old said: “If they wanted to open the school they should have made sure everything was OK first. I’m not prepared to send my daughter back until the heating is fully up and running.”
A spokesman for Moray Council said a pipe had burst, affecting the heating in two classrooms which was being sorted.
“Meantime pupils have been moved to other rooms and extra temporary heating has been introduced,” he said. “The classrooms must achieve 60 degrees by 10am, and this is happening. It may be a little chilly to start with and the pupils may choose to wear extra layers for that period, but that's all.”
The bad weather also affected rail travel as the Inverness-Aberdeen line closed between Inverurie and Elgin.
Passengers were stranded as ScotRail was unable to provide alternative transport due to the severe weather.
A spokeswoman for the firm apologised for the inconvenience.
Network Rail issued a reassurance that the country’s 130 level crossings were safe after the control panel in the Elgin one froze, meaning the barrier was stuck in a closed position.