Hail leaves trail of destruction

A CLEAN-up operation was carried out in parts of Suffolk and Essex yesterday after a freak hailstorm – the worst to hit the area in 18 years – left a trail of damage.

A CLEAN-up operation was carried out in parts of Suffolk and Essex yesterday after a freak hailstorm – the worst to hit the area in 18 years – left a trail of damage.

The extreme weather struck parts of north Essex and Suffolk between 4pm and 6pm on Wednesday, with ice cube-sized hailstones, flooding and lightning.

The hailstones smashed holes in glass conservatories and destroyed plants. Lightning sparked house fires and the pouring rain resulted in overflowing drains and flooding in homes and schools.

Suffolk police said the heavy downpours caused drain covers to overflow in Capel St Mary, leaving the area flooded, while driving conditions were treacherous on both main and minor roads.

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Nick Ward, a shipping clerk from Chatsworth Crescent, Ipswich, said about 60 holes had been smashed in his conservatory roof by the hailstones.

The 34-year-old said: "It was just absolutely amazing. I couldn't believe it. There were people coming down the street saying their conservatory had been broken too."

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Tony Prior, who lives in Silver Leys, Bentley, said: "My new TV aerial which I put up only the previous day now has three bent directors. I'm 65 and I've never seen hail that big."

Eddie King, an office manager from Dales Road, said he returned home to find several gallons of water in his conservatory after the hail burst through the triple-layered roof, causing more than 140 holes.

He said: "It just shattered through the roof material. It's a complete mess."

Tracey Sparling found two birds, one a blackbird and the other a sparrow, lying dead and battered in her back garden in East Bergholt after the storm. The sparrow was found in a hanging basket, surrounded by large hailstones.

Ipswich's Westbourne High School was closed yesterday as staff cleared up after the deluge.

Deputy headteacher Dave Thomas said many of the classrooms and laboratories were flooded and the toilets were blocked.

"Many of the floors are soaked and we are trying to dry them out – we're getting in some de-humidifiers to try to speed up the job," Mr Thomas said.

Elayne Evans was completely unaware her attic was on fire after lightning hit an overflow pipe. It was only on hearing a huge bang, which cut off her electricity, that she and a neighbour decided to investigate.

Mrs Evans, 50, said: "We then went to check the tellies upstairs and heard noises and opened the loft hatch and discovered the fire.

"We caught it quite early and got everyone out and the neighbours got the garden hose up there and then the fire brigade came and took over."

Crews from Prince's Street and Colchester Road tackled the blaze, which was under control within an hour.

Meanwhile, pupils at an Essex school enjoyed an unexpected day off yesterdayafter flooding caused by the storms.

The Thomas Lord Audley School and Language College in Colchester was forced to close its doors after the kitchens were affected by water which came in.

Deputy headteacher, Phil Jones, praised the efforts of all staff to respond to the unusual situation.

He said: "Staff are all working together to clean up after the damage caused by the storm and this excellent team spirit means that we will make every effort to open the school for our students as soon as is possible."

It was later agreed the school will open today but only until 12.45pm.

Meanwhile police revealed that despite the torrential downpour making driving conditions atrocious, there had not been any accidents on roads in Essex.

Nearly 18mm of rain fell in just over an hour when the heavens opened at about 4pm on Wednesday although the storms did not affect the coastal areas.

However hundreds of homes in Tolleshunt D'Arcy were left without power for a few hours.

Later in the evening the Twenty20 cricket at the County Ground in Chelmsford had to be abandoned after a torrential downpour during the interval of the Essex Eagles game.

A spokeswoman for EDF Energy said: "Storms that passed over the East of England on Wednesday caused a number of localised power interruptions.

"One of the larger faults interrupted power to 2,200 customers in the Tolleshunt Major area just before 4pm when an overhead power line was brought down. Power was restored in stages from 6pm with the final supplies reconnected at 8.30pm when repairs were completed. We are sorry for the inconvenience this stormy weather caused our customers."

In Cambridgeshire, a 13-year-old boy died after being struck by lightning while walking home from school, education authority officials said yesterday.

Medics believe Gary Bevan was hit by lightning as he walked across a field to his home in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, on Friday.

The youngster was found lying face down and later died in Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, from heart damage.

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