Tornado 'sent bricks flying like a poltergeist'

Residents tell of terror as the lights went out and a 110mph twister 'mowed' a corridor of devastation through a seaside town
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The Independent Online

A thunderous roar, a green flash of light and the tornado which tore through the seaside town was gone as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving a swath of devastation.

A thunderous roar, a green flash of light and the tornado which tore through the seaside town was gone as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving a swath of devastation.

Yesterday, as West Sussex emergency services battled against the clock to clear the tornado damage before predicted high winds hit again, residents of Bognor Regis described their fear at being caught up in the meteorological phenomenon.

Twisters, more commonly associated with the American mid-west, are not as unusual in Britain as most think. But rarely do they hit with the ferocity of Saturday evening's storm. Five people were injured by the whirling winds which left a one-and-a-half mile trail and millions of pounds of damage in their wake. Trees were uprooted, lamp posts felled, cars smashed and roofs ripped off houses along their path while only feet away the area was untouched. Emergency services, which dealt with 1998's tornado in nearby Selsey, said yesterday that this one was "much, much worse".

Kathleen Wright said: "It was sending bricks through the air like a poltergeist. I saw a fence fly past the kitchen window. I just froze and thought 'there is nothing I can do'."

Edward Horton said the 110mph, 70ft high tornado "mowed" a 40-foot corridor down the street. "It was a tremendous, if not scary, sight to see it so close," added the 60-year-old.

"There was a flash of lightning and a greenish flash outside and in a matter of seconds it was gone. All the lights went off in the house and we didn't know what an earth was going on," recalled Paul Baker, 35. "When we went out into the garden you could actually see where the tornado had passed across the bottom of the garden."

Six-year-old Stefan Zugor had to be treated for cuts to his face. His mother, Rebecca, 37, said: "It was like a sheet of water hitting the front of the house. The glass from the windows was being ripped out, glass was absolutely everywhere and the noise was dreadful. As it struck it was just like a complete grey in front of you. Stefan was screaming and we got next to the bed and we just decided to pray, pray to God to protect us from what was happening."

Paul Taber, 33, said: "I have never seen anything like it. The whole town went pitch black and you could hear this awful whistling sound as the tornado ripped through us."

A man and a woman suffered facial injuries caused by flying glass after four cars were smashed in a car supermarket park. A caravan in the Aldwick area of the town was lifted into the air and dropped on to another parked nearby, seriously injuring two women.

Yesterday a nurse at St Richard's Hospital, Chichester, said a women in her fifties was in a comfortable condition despite chest injuries while a 60-year-old with shoulder and foot wounds had since been discharged from hospital.

Fire and police services spent all night trying to secure dangerous buildings. Inspector Richard Myhill, of Sussex Police, said: "Of course we knew there was going to be bad weather but you don't expect tornadoes to strike. We don't have a warning system like in America."

The Environment minister Michael Meacher toured the area yesterday to assess the damage and meet those affected.

Dozens of homes had to be evacuated in a county which was only beginning to recover from recent floods. Yesterday there were fears that the situation would be compounded by 90mph winds and heavy rain that was predicted for Kent and Sussex.

It was the most extraordinary event in a weekend of terrible weather across Britain. And the forecast looked gloomy with severe gales in southern England and South Wales forecast for early today.

Scotland bore the brunt of the worst weather. High winds overturned a Cessna 172 four-seater aircraft at Edinburgh airport, trees were blown down, houses damaged and roads flooded. Elsewhere, storms lashed the country in Devon, Cornwall and South Wales and the Environment Agency issued Flood Watches for the weekend's high tides between Milford on Sea to Calshot in Hampshire.

Lymington, Keyhaven, Pennington, and Milford on Sea were the most at-risk areas and bulldozers strove to bolster sea defences at the vulnerable areas of Selsey in West Sussex and Pevensey, East Sussex.