A two-day operation is underway to clean up the mess left by an “unprecedented” sandstorm in Thurso during Monday’s gales.
In winds gusting more than 80mph, tons of sand from a 400-yard length of the esplanade blew onto streets, roofs, gardens and vehicles along the front, and finely covered areas as far as 500yds inland.
Local residents claim that, until a few months ago, sand never made its way into the town, even during the worst storms.
They fear something has happened to cause the beach level to build up slowly in the bay over the past couple of years, and that sandstorms might occur more frequently.
Highland Council yesterday deployed nine men, three lorries and two excavators to Thurso seafront to clear sand from the roads, footpaths and road drains.
Today a mechanical brush and gully emptier will be in use, with the council promising more resources if necessary.
Thurso fire station sent two appliances, and their crews used brushes and shovels to clear paths to enable residents to get about.
Local councillor Matthew Reiss went to see the damage and talk to residents.
He said: “I’ve spoken to a 76 -year-old lady and a 102-year-old man and they’ve told me this is unprecedented.
“People are finding the sand has clogged up their roan pipes and car locks, and one person told me it even penetrated her double glazing into the living room.
“I’ve seen drifts of sand two-feet deep and gardens and flower beds covered in two to three inches of sand.”
Mr Reiss praised the rapid council and fire service response to the situation, adding his concerns about the strain on resources if the sand storms become more frequent.
He said: “The council flood team is now looking at the beach to see what might be causing the sand to build up.
“Another storm might take the sand away again, but if sand storms become more frequent,there is a risk of heavy costs in terms of resources and damage.”
Meanwhile the storm affected other parts of the region, including Ross-shire.
Invergordon councillor Maxine Smith lost her porch door when the wind pulled it off its hings after it was left open following a delivery.
She said: “On the High Street in Invergordon I was forever picking up bins and debris, there were bits of what looked like car parts, trims etc, flying about, I’ve no idea where they came from, and there was a tree down on the Struie.
“It was certainly a bad storm and quite a few folk suffered.”
There were power outages of varying duration right across the north, with SSE operatives working through the night to restore power to some 11,000 customers who lost their supply at various points during the day.
Several schools across the region were closed during the storm, but all Highland schools were open yesterday.
Storm-battered trees should be thoroughly checked for weakness and damage, Highland Council advises.
A council spokeswoman said: “The council is concerned where weakened or damaged branches could subsequently fall on vehicles or pedestrians.
“Members of the public requiring advice and guidance on this matter should contact the council’s service centre on 01349 886601.”