Tornado destroys homes in ‘supercell thunderstorm’ as flights grounded and thousands without power

Major incident declared and residents evacuated as Storm Gerrit wreaks havoc for a second day

Andy Gregory,Simon Calder
Thursday 28 December 2023 20:11 GMT
Storm Gerrit: Residents forced to leave homes after 'tornado' hits Greater Manchester

A rare supercell thunderstorm which tore through Greater Manchester is believed to have spawned a tornado which damaged dozens of homes as Storm Gerrit disrupted flights, trains and ferries and left thousands without power.

A major incident was declared overnight in Tameside after the tornado tore roofs and chimneys from homes, shattered windows and left debris and uprooted trees littered across streets – prompting calls for prime minister Rishi Sunak to call an emergency Cobra meeting “to ensure a swift, robust recovery plan”.

Evacuated residents from the village of Carrbrook and Stalybridge said they had suffered an “absolute disaster” unlike anything they had ever experienced, and described the terrifying noise of the powerful winds as like “a plane was coming down [on] the house”, as flying brickwork and other debris damaged buildings and “squished” cars outside.

The executive leader of Tameside Council, Ged Cooney, said: “Thankfully there are no casualties from the incident but there are of course local residents who are devastated by the damage caused to their homes.”

The ‘localised tornado’ ripped off roofs and brought down walls in Stalybridge (AP)

Engineers and clearance teams scrambled to restore power to 7,700 households knocked off grid by the storm, and to shift the debris, snow and floodwater which brought trains to a halt across much of Scotland and rendered major roads impassable on Wednesday.

Yet the travel chaos continued on Thursday, with rail cancellations in force across swathes of Scotland, and also severe delays and cancellations in England.

More than 30 flood warnings – meaning flooding is expected – remained in force on Thursday in Scotland, England and Wales, alongside around 160 lesser flood alerts which were spread right across each of the three countries.

All trains suspended from Paddington as travel chaos continues across the UK

On Thursday, three men died after their 4x4 vehicle plunged into the River Esk near Glaisdale on the North Yorks Moors National Parks. It’s not known yet how the vehicle went into the water, but roads in the region had been left hazardous following Storm Gerrit.

All trains on the West Highland Line between Glasgow, Oban, Fort William and Mallaig were cancelled, while the West Coast main line – which connects London Euston with the West Midlands, northwest England, North Wales and southern Scotland – suffered delays due to a fallen tree.

Disruption was continuing at London Paddington, the hub for the west of England and South Wales, following a fatality on the Great Western line near Slough.

At London Heathrow, British Airways had cancelled 26 flights by 1pm, with round-trips to Barcelona, Madrid and Newcastle among those grounded. There was also disruption to ferry travel to the Hebrides, France and to the Isle of Wight as high winds – which hit 77mph on Wednesday – continued to batter the coastlines.

On the A9, where motorists had been trapped in their vehicles for hours on Wednesday as heavy snow blanketed the Drumochter mountain pass, Police Scotland said on Thursday that the main road artery through the Highlands had fully reopened in both directions and was “passable with care”.

Cars were stuck for hours on the A9 at Drumochter after heavy snowfall (Traffic Scotland)

“Conditions for travel in the affected areas may be hazardous and extra caution should be exercised by all road users,” said Inspector Michelle Burns, from the force’s road policing unit.

As Storm Gerrit wound down on Thursday, the Met Office warned that the final days of this year would bring more powerful winds, rain and snow and continued disruption that will hamper maintenance efforts.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) supplies had been restored to some 34,000 customers by 11am on Thursday, with around 3,000 left without power, many of whom are in Shetland and northeast Scotland. The company warned some may remain cut off until Friday.

“One of the main impacts we’ve seen is around access to faults, so blocked roads, flooding in fields, and issues with snow,” SSEN’s director of corporate affairs Graeme Keddie told BBC Radio Scotland.

“We’re very hopeful that that will ease today but that has meant our teams on the ground have been saying that [in] the time it would take to fix two or three faults they have only been able to fix one, but we are hopeful of further progress today as weather conditions have eased.”

And as Tameside reeled from the previous night’s “devastating” supercell thunderstorm, the Liberal Democrats’ transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse urged Mr Sunak to gather ministers for an emergency meeting.

“Hundreds of lives have been thrown into chaos with homes destroyed straight after Christmas. It’s devastating,” Ms Hobhouse said. “Rishi Sunak needs to call an urgent Cobra meeting to ensure a swift, robust recovery plan so those affected can begin rebuilding their lives.

Part of a fallen roof lays on the floor following the suspected tornado in Stalybridge (Getty)

“Any delay could have a devastating impact on families already displaced whose lives have been turned upside down by this tornado.”

Tameside Council said about 100 properties were evacuated after the “mini tornado” hit areas of Carrbrook and Millbrook.

Hayley McCaffer, 40, who lives in Carrbrook, said some of her neighbours’ houses “are an absolute disaster” with missing roofs and “squished” cars. She and her partner were unsure when they could return to their home.

Julie Ann Fielding from Stalybridge said the ordeal lasted around 10 minutes and she watched emergency services attend the scene, saying: “Hail, rain. Never experienced anything like it.

The clear up begins in Stalybridge (Getty Images)

“I thought the windows were coming through. Fence panels ripped right up and out. Roof opposite has been ripped off and severely damaged a lot of the cars.”

Another man, who shared footage of the destruction of his conservatory on social media, said: “My ears are still ringing like I’ve been to a gig! The funnel moved down our street and it was so loud that it went silent for a moment, it was weird as hell.”

Met Office Office meteorologist Alex Burkill said in a Thursday afternoon forecast: “It is still a windy blustery picture for many of us as we go through the rest of today.

Flooded fields on the Somerset Levels (PA)

“Likely to be some gales, perhaps even severe gales, in some exposed spots and hefty showers; could be some hail, some sleet mixed in with these across parts of Scotland in particular.”

He added that the blustery and showery picture continues overnight and into Friday with winds expected to ease slightly across most of the UK.

A further bout of “very strong winds” and a spell of “intense rain” is expected on Saturday before more unsettled weather with “blustery, showery conditions likely as we go through New Year’s Eve”, he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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