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UK weather: Heathrow cancels flights and lightning strikes destroy houses in Essex

A lightning strike destroyed the roof of a house in Essex in the early hours of the morning

The UK has been hit by storms just hours after sweltering temperatures reached 32C on Friday, as lightning destroyed two homes in Essex.

A family of four were made homeless after their semi-detached bungalow was struck by lightning, Essex Fire and Rescue have reported. Firefighters tackled the blaze on the roof of the property in Holland on Sea shortly before 4.30am this morning. No-one was hurt.

Three fire crews were also called to the house in Murrell Lock, Chelmsford, at about 10.45pm last night after smoke was seen pouring from the roof.

The fire spread to the first floor of the property but there were no reported casualties.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow airport said it will cancel one in five flights between 4 pm and 6pm this afternoon, when there is a strong likelihood of poor weather conditions.

"There is severe weather forecast at Heathrow for Saturday 19 July with a 70 percent risk of thunderstorms, lightning strikes and hail storms," she said.

Manchester Airport said an electrical surge caused by thunderstorms had led to some delays today. General duty manager Gary Brown said: "It impacted on some lifts and baggage systems but most systems are now back up and running. We'll wait to see what happens this afternoon when we're expecting thunder."

The Environment Agency warned that up to 30mm (1.2in) of rain could fall in an hour in some areas and there are over 50 flood alerts in place over the country. The agency says that almost every county in England and Wales is at "medium" risk of flooding today.

The majority of these are in the Midlands, the South East and the South West.

In a separate "amber" warning of rain for England, eastern and central Wales, the Met Office warns that heavy, thundery showers that developed overnight will move northwards during the day.

The Met Office said: "Not everywhere within the warning area will see thunderstorms, and indeed some spells of warm sunshine are expected at times, but where thunderstorms do form, some torrential downpours are likely with frequent lightning, large hail and locally strong gusts.

"The public should be prepared for the risk of disruption from any of these elements."

There is still, however, a "yellow" warning of a heatwave for the UK today, advising people to be "alert and ready". The Met Office said there was a 60 per cent chance of a heatwave continuing until tomorrow morning, with high levels of humidity.

Storms hit large parts of the South East of England early yesterday morning, with a reported 3,000 lightning strikes.

At just after 6am, Essex fire service was called to a blaze in a garage at Clacton Road in Elmstead, near Colchester, which was also thought to have been started by a lightning strike.

Elsewhere, the first floor and roof of a house in Sittingbourne, Kent, was set alight by a strike, while a bungalow's roof was hit in Whitstable, Kent Fire and Rescue said.

Houses were struck in the market village of Lenham, near Maidstone, while lightning also started several small fires in Willesborough, near Ashford.

Twenty-seven patients on a hospital ward at the Royal United Hospital in Bath also had to be moved when heavy rain brought down part of a ceiling.

Additional reporting by Press Association