Birmingham cleans up after tornado

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The Independent Online

Structural engineers warned that some houses were so badly damaged that they may have to be pulled down after one of the most destructive tornadoes to hit Britain in decades.

There were claims of homes and cars being looted, with police confirming a man was arrested after the tornado. A spokesman said: "One man was arrested on suspicion of theft and has been released on police bail. There have been no other incidents reported to us of looting and no one else has been arrested in connection with that."

Homeowners were also warned not to fall prey to rogue traders and bogus officials.

The city's chair of public protection, Neil Eustace, said that police were particularly concerned about distraction burglars using damage as an excuse to enter people's property.

Mr Eustace said: "Bogus traders call at your door uninvited pretending to be any one of a number of authentic callers from the council, gas, electricity or water companies.

"It is a despicable practice to prey on people at their most vulnerable but bogus callers are convincing liars and anyone can be taken in by them."

Scores of families were made homeless and 20 people injured when 130mph winds tore off the roofs of houses, uprooted trees and knocked down walls.

Witness saw cars swept away and street signs and masonry turned into flying missiles when the tornado hit Birmingham at about 2.45pm on Thursday. One car-park attendant was badly injured when his shed was lifted into the air. The full scale of the devastation was being assessed yesterday as householders and shopkeepers returned.

In the King's Heath area, homes and businesses were boarded up and covered in tarpaulins. In the nearby neighbourhood of Sparkbrook, bin lorries trundled along the street as workers shovelled debris from the roads and pavements.

Paul Tilsley, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, who sits on the local council's emergency planning board, said it was a miracle no one had been killed.

"There are a lot of properties that are substantially damaged that people will be very, very worried about. It was a miracle there were no fatalities," he said. "Hundreds of residents and businesses have been confronted with the most appalling damage to homes, retail premises and businesses.".

"We don't know the extent of the damage and it will only become apparent during the day when we have engineers out to look at properties and have decided what action has to be taken.

"Hopefully, people will be able to return to those less affected properties today but it may be as early as next week for some people," he added. Witnesses reported seeing a huge, swirling column of wind coming towards them which they estimated to be three times the height of a house. It ripped through the area in seconds. The council set up a centre for people left temporarily homeless as the rescue services helped others clear up. The University of Birmingham offered overnight accommodation to people made homeless.

West Midlands Fire Service said that it had received some 240 calls from the public in the first hour following the tornado.