Two dead as storms lash East Anglia

VIOLENT winds have left a trail of destruction across East Anglia, damaging homes, leaving thousands without power and resulting in the tragic deaths of two people.

By Danielle Nuttall

VIOLENT winds have left a trail of destruction across East Anglia, damaging homes, leaving thousands without power and resulting in the tragic deaths of two people.

Trees crashed to the ground, roads were closed and emergency services were stretched to the limits as winds reached up to 70mph across the region on Saturday afternoon.

At the height of the gale-force winds, a man and woman were killed when the Rover 25 hatchback they were travelling in was struck by a falling 40ft beech tree along Yarmouth Road in Lowestoft.

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The elderly couple, expected to be named later today , were heading along the A12 towards Yarmouth when the massive tree crashed down onto their car shortly before 4.30pm.

They were on the A12 opposite the junction with Gunton Avenue, when the tree fell from the nearside verge and landed on their car.

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The victims were both pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics who attended along with police and fire crews.

Sub-officer Jim Parsons, of Suffolk fire service, was among the first at the scene. He said: "It was very sad. A large beech tree had fallen across the car and the occupants unfortunately both died."

Elsewhere, a number of homes suffered major structural damage, as trees and branches smashed into windows and property.

In one of the worst incidents, a tree snapped in two and crashed through the upper floor of an historic 17th Century cottage at Wortham.

The two families who occupy different wings of the Grade II Listed Beech Tree Farm House were lucky to emerge unscathed as the tree which gives the house its name and had dominated the local landscape for more than 300 years came tumbling through the roof of the picturesque timbered cottage.

Justin Beamish, who lives in the part of the house which bore the brunt of the fall with his wife Judy and their two children, said the moment of impact was like a bomb going off.

He said: "We were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when there was this huge rumble and you could feel the house moving, and then there was this crash and clouds of dust everywhere."

Brenda Bartram, who has lived at the house with husband Leslie for most of their 57-year marriage, was devastated by the destruction wreaked by the ageing tree.

An emotional Mrs Bartram told the EADT: "It was a terrible shock, we were just sat there watching television there was an almighty roar and I thought 'what ever's that' and there were all these bits of wood and tree everywhere."

The building has been declared unsafe and Mrs Bartram and the Beamish family are staying with relatives until the true extent of the damage has been gauged and repair works carried out.

The tree and house are the subject of at least two paintings by the famed mid-nineteenth century artist the Reverend Richard Cobbold, who was vicar of the parish from 1827 until his death in 1877, and recorded many aspects of life in Wortham during his tenure.

Farmer Stephen Rash, who owns Beech Tree House, which has been passed down through the family for generations, said: "Obviously it's tragic that both the tree and the house have been damaged in this way, they are both valuable parts of our local heritage.

"Nevertheless the main thing is that nobody was hurt in the incident and although everyone's a bit shaken up it could have been a lot worse."

Mr Beamish, an engineer, said it could be six months before renovation works are completed and he and his family are able to move back in.

Police in Suffolk said they had taken more than 260 calls from members of the public between 3pm and 7pm on Saturday night reporting fallen trees, power lines and property damage.

Essex appeared to have suffered less damage than its neighbouring county.

At 9.30pm on Saturday, more than 7,000 homes and businesses were without power in Suffolk and a further 2,300 in Norfolk.

At around 8pm last night, electricity company EDF Energy said around 650 homes in Suffolk – many in the west of the county – were still without power more than 24 hours after being cut off, while there were about 400 in Essex and 400 in Norfolk.

A spokesman said: "A lot of these are individual properties or small groups. I think it is inevitable, regrettably, that some customers will remain without a supply tonight. We are contacting those customers where possible to let them know so they can try to make alternative arrangements."

He said engineers were working through the night, but had been hampered during yesterday by continuing bad weather. It was hoped more homes would be reconnected last night.

The company drafted in extra staff following severe weather warnings at the end of last week, but winds reached higher gusts than those forecast.

Electricity workers spent part of yesterday tackling a large fault in the Sutton and Hasketon areas, near Woodbridge, where a large pine tree had blown down bringing with it power lines and leaving 224 customers without power.

A spokeswoman for EDF Energy said: "We would like to reassure customers we are doing everything possible to repair these faults and restore power supplies as quickly as we can."

For safety reasons, the Orwell Bridge just outside Ipswich was closed shortly after 5.30pm on Saturday and did not re-open until late in the evening.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said: "Between 3pm and 7pm on Saturday, Suffolk police took more than 260 calls about weather-related incidents.

"The vast majority of those calls, which came from every part of the county, have been about fallen trees. A significant number have been to report structural damage to property and also fallen power lines and cables."

Police were advising people to avoid unnecessary travel and to take extreme care, especially on unlit back roads where fallen branches and trees could lie around the next bend.

After the winds subsided, police were still encouraging people to take care as trees already weakened could still fall.

Essex escaped the brunt of the wind, with the majority of problems being confined to a few trees being blown over in the gales.

One 50ft tree which caused the most havoc came toppling down just after 10am on the A133 near the Q8 garage at Weeley - the main road to the Clacton coast from Colchester.

It covered the Colchester-bound carriageway and the road was closed until 4.15pm while emergency services cleared it away. Initially firefighters had tried to remove it but it was too big for them and specialist tree equipment was called in.

The main trunk was moved by 12.20pm and then the road was cleared of the remaining debris.

A crew from Colchester fire station was also stationed on Mersea Island on Saturday night as a precaution as The Strood causeway which links to the mainland was covered by the rising tides.

This is a routine arrangement when a high tide is expected, although this weekend's was caused by the strong winds and was not a scheduled high tide.

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