Lightning strikes hit county

By Katy Edwards and Dave GooderhamA LIGHTNING bolt struck a school and a centre for people with learning disabilities as a violent thunderstorm swept across the county.

By Katy Edwards and Dave Gooderham

A LIGHTNING bolt struck a school and a centre for people with learning disabilities as a violent thunderstorm swept across the county.

Light bulbs were shattered and plaster fell from the ceiling when the historic tower over the main entrance to Ipswich School was hit by lightning just before 12.30pm yesterday.

Part of the roof at the Stourmead House centre in Kedington, near Haverhill, was also destroyed when it was struck by a lightning bolt.

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There were screams and exclamations in the classrooms at Ipswich School as pupils and teachers saw a blue flash and heard a terrifying crash.

Telephone systems and computers were left smoking and smouldering plastic and carpet rubber filled the administration block, under the tower, with a pungent smell.

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Worst-hit was a small music room, directly below the lightning conductor in the top of the 150-year-old tower, where a Year 10 class had finished a lesson just 15 minutes earlier.

A fluorescent strip light shattered and the fire alarm exploded, sending the plastic casing flying across the room.

There were also holes in the archive room walls next door, but the school museum, also in the tower, escaped unscathed.

The main school was evacuated for just under an hour while fire crews investigated to make sure the lightning strike had not started any fires.

Sixth-former Darragh O'Sullivan, 17, was in a chemistry lesson when the bolt struck.

He said: “The room went really dark, then there was a massive blue flash and sparks shot out of one of the lights. We got quite a fright, we thought it was a bomb. There were people screaming.”

David Warnes, the school chaplain, had been teaching an upper sixth history class at the time.

“The thunder and lightning were absolutely simultaneous with no warning. I was quite shaken. It was the sixth-form's last ever history class. One of them said 'Well Sir, at least you ended with a bang'.”

Ian Galbraith, headmaster of the Henley Road school, said: “There is a sense of huge relief here that everyone is safe and that the lightning conductor did its job.”

Although it would be some time before the telephones and electrical equipment were working again, no-one was injured in the lightning strike and lessons continued as normal in the afternoon.

Staff at the Stourmead House centre for people with learning disabilities in Kedington had a lucky escape when a substantial part of the building was hit by the lightning.

About a quarter of the roof was destroyed and the adjoining office of the occupational therapist and resettlement nurse also suffered damage.

The office was empty at the time and there were only about five people in the centre when the lightning struck shortly before 1pm.

Care home manager Andy Brown said: “Both offices have been completely devastated, but we were very lucky.

“We had a hailstorm at lunch-time, but then the hail just stopped. It started to thunder and lightning and appeared to be getting closer and then all of a sudden there was this almighty bang.”

Robert Bowas, director of nursing at Local Health Partnership Trust, said: “We had one member of staff treated for shock by our on-site doctor and one member of staff was sent home.

“But everyone else has been checked and they are okay. We were fortunate as it could have been worse - it was just a freak of nature.”

A piece of burnt metal from the lightning strike was found in the garden of Frank and Gladys Fisher, who live on the adjacent Risbridge Drive estate.

Mr Fisher, 80, said: “When it struck, it sounded like nothing I had ever heard and it was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. It was such a loud bang.”

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