Region battered by strong winds

High winds caused chaos across Norfolk and Suffolk in the build-up to the New Year, with a mini tornado being blamed for ripping part of the roof off a home in a Broads village.

High winds caused chaos across Norfolk and Suffolk in the build-up to the New Year, with a mini tornado being blamed for ripping part of the roof off a home in a Broads village.

An area of low pressure caused damaging gusts of up to 60mph in parts of Suffolk while strong winds and heavy rainfall in Norfolk felled many trees and caused some flooding.

A spokesman for EDF Energy said that up to 20,000 homes in the East suffered power cuts during the storm, with householders in villages between Eye and Harleston cut off between 5pm and 9pm on Saturday.

Jason Parkes yesterday described the dramatic moments a suspected tornado swept over Whitegates, in Ludham, damaging the roof of the house he was in and throwing wheelie bins into the air.

Mr Parkes, 34, said: “I was sitting watching TV when the wind blew over the house and sucked the roof off. It lasted for about five seconds and the whole house shook. I've never seen anything like this before.

“When I opened the door to see what was happening, my arms were nearly pulled out of their sockets. It also sucked the upstairs windows open.”

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Mr Parkes, a friend of the house tenant Jacci Munro, said the gust, at about 6.30pm on Saturday, blew many tiles off the roof and ripped the felt underneath. Wreckage was blown into the garden and an empty kennel used by the family's dog was blown half and mile away.

Miss Munro, 35, said she was visiting her mother with her two sons, Lee, 18, and Robert, 15, when she heard about the freak accident.

“I couldn't believe it had happened,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk Fire Service, said: “Considerable damage was caused to the roof structure and when fire crews arrived, they noticed wheelie bins were floating in mid-air. It is believed to have been caused by a mini-tornado.”

She added a tornado was also being blamed for downing power cables in Harleston at about 6pm on Saturday. The cables set fire to a tree in Love Lane and crews from Diss, Harleston and Norwich spent an hour making the area safe. Reports were also received of isolated flooding.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said its control room logged about 115 wind-related calls on Saturday evening, the majority of which were in relation to trees falling across roads.

She added: “It has been pretty bad and we have struggled to keep up with it. Most of the trees fell on B roads and fortunately nobody has been injured. It has put a strain on our resources.”

Richard Robinson, spokesman for EDF Energy, said last night that more than 100 field staff had been deployed across the region to restore power over the weekend, but that about 170 householders were still cut off.

He apologised to customers and said engineers were working around the clock to restore power to the last homes affected.

John Law, a forecaster for UEA-based Weatherquest, explained the high winds were as a result of an area of low pressure over the region and confirmed the damage to the house in Ludham could have been caused by a tornado, which is formed by turbulence building within a large thundery shower cloud.

He said: “The UK sees about 20-30 tornados per year and when you get them in really populated areas they can cause a lot of problems.”

Mr Law added that winds across Norfolk reached up to about 35mph, with 19mm of rain falling in parts of the county. The weather is expected to remain breezy for the first day of 2007, with mainly dry weather and temperatures of 8-9C.

Across the UK, high winds of up to 75mph were expected to welcome in the New Year, with Scotland, parts of Wales and northern England worst affected.