A ferry was involved in a collision with another vessel while trying to dock in extreme weather conditions yesterday as Storm Caroline wreaked havoc across the north.
The incident came as pupils were rescued from a school bus in Orkney as waves crashed around it on a coastal road, and thousands of island homes lost power and planes, trains and ferries were cancelled.
The Orkney ferry Hamnavoe was unable to dock in Stromness and was escorted by a tug to Scapa Flow where she was expected to spend the night, leaving 23 passengers stranded at sea.
During the failed docking attempt, Hamnavoe was involved in a collision with Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Pole Star.
Last night Stuart Garrett, managing director at operators Serco NorthLink Ferries said: “Today our Pentland Firth vessel MV Hamnavoe was unable to dock at Stromness as a result of severe weather due to Storm Caroline and we are currently waiting for a break in the weather to ensure the safe arrival of our passengers in Orkney.
“While attempting to dock in these difficult conditions and with tug assistance, light contact was made with another vessel in the harbour which resulted in minor vessel damage but no injuries to those on board.
“The safety of our passengers is always paramount and as such, we will continue looking after our passengers on board until they are able to safely disembark. Current forecasts suggests that there is a possibility that this could be tomorrow.
“We are continuously monitoring the situation and we are updating our passengers as we know more.”
Gale force winds reached up to 79mph at Altnaharra in Sutherland, with 33ft high waves battering coastlines. A top wind speed of 124mph was recorded on top of Cairngorm Mountain.
More than 30 youngsters on board a school bus in Orkney had a “lucky escape” when it broke down in the storm and was battered by huge waves breaking over the sea wall at Scapa Beach Road in Kirkwall.
The children who attended Kirkwall Grammar School were rescued by a 4 x 4 in a dramatic operation. The incident happened around 11.20am at Scapa Beach Road in Kirkwall.
Former long serving Kirkwall Lifeboat coxswain Geoff Gardens came across the rescue.
Mr Gardens, 65, said: “In all my years this is the worst weather I have seen for many a day. The children were very lucky.
“The children were all fine, but the bus was rocking. The waves were breaking over the wall – they were big.
“It took quite a few runs to get all the kids off – they were calm throughout. It was quite a bad place to break down – but I don’t know if the bus stalled in the weather or by it. The road was very flooded there. It was some rescue.”
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach North Scotland said: “We sent an alternative bus where police assisted in safely transferring the passengers to the second bus.”
In Nairn, access to the harbour was closed as the wind and waves caused part of the harbour wall to subside. Highland Council said assessment of the damage was ongoing. Part of the roof of Wick Campus Gym was ripped off by the wind.
Nearly 5,000 homes were without power across the Western Isles and North West Highlands as 85mph winds hit. Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) said that by midday power had been restored to 3,900 households, while 780 homes were still out.
Bus, ferry and train services were suspended across the Highlands and Islands, and fallen trees caused further disruption on roads.
Scotrail Alliance said a limited number of services have resumed on the West Highland line last night, however services between Inverness and Wick/Thurso, and Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh, remain suspended.
Safety checks were being undertaken on the Aberdeen-Inverness line.
All schools in Orkney and Shetland were closed and the island councils said they would remain closed today.
Schools in Lewis, Harris and Uist were closed as a precaution, however Western Isles Council intended to reopen them today.
Highland Council said it had closed 34 schools and 17 nurseries. Two schools on the isle of Mull were closed.
The Churchill Barriers in Orkney were closed and the causeway at the Kyle of Tongue was “washed away” by wave damage.
As a band of freezing weather swept in behind the storm, the snow gates on the A939 Lecht road, near Tomintoul, were closed at about 7.30pm.