Region recovering from a battering

LORNA MARSH East Anglia was today recovering from its worst storms in 17 years as the cost of desolation soared to millions of pounds and thousands of people were still without power.

LORNA MARSH

East Anglia was today recovering from its worst storms in 17 years as the cost of desolation soared to millions of pounds and thousands of people were still without power.

Several people were left homeless following the savage weather that blasted down trees and buildings and crippled transport.

But the 78mph winds had subsided as the region woke up to a calm morning to begin the massive clean-up operation.

Yet the reprieve is expected to be short lived as storms are predicted to return at the weekend and sleet is forecast for next week.

Winds will not reach the force seen on Thursday however, instead hitting 40 to 50mph on Saturday and Sunday.

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Nearly 15,000 homes and businesses across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire were still without electricity today due to fallen cables and some are expected to remain so for the next few days.

An EDF energy spokesman said hundreds of extra staff were doing all they could to get people back on power.

“We are working as quickly as we can but these are unusual circumstances and the worst storms we have had to deal with in 17 years. Unfortunately one thing we cannot control is the weather.”

One woman who lost a newly set up antiques centre a month before it was due to open, along with several precious paintings and pieces of furniture, said the scene of destruction was “like something out of Apocalypse Now”.

Train and plane services were back to normal although some minor roads remained closed as the last of the fallen trees and debris of battered buildings were cleared up.

Builders and insurers were inundated with calls from those who had property and cars destroyed and children at several schools were kept at home while work took place to make classrooms safe.

A car park at West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds, parts of Yarmouth Town Hall and swathes of North Norfolk District Council-owned woodland are all closed to the public while work is carried out to clear up and repair the storm damage.

Norfolk and north Suffolk escaped without witnessing any fatalities as the death toll rose to at least 13 nationally. In Cambridgeshire one person was seriously injured after a double-decker bus, also carrying a heavily pregnant woman, was blown into a ditch on the A10 at Stretham.

One Norfolk police officer put out a public thank you to all those who helped clear roads during Thursday's storms.

Insp Mike Brown, who is based at Fakenham, said: “We were extremely grateful to have received so much help and assistance from the public during very difficult circumstances. Without the help that we received the road travel would have suffered a great deal more disruption than it did.”

Chris Bell, duty forecaster at UEA-based WeatherQuest, said that storms would whip up again today and last over the weekend.

“On Monday morning we will see some frost and then some sleet showers going on into the week. There is a possibility this will turn into snow but it is not a great likelihood.”

ROGUE TRADERS WARNING

Householders are being warned against cowboy builders taking advantage of the damage wreaked by the storm.

Concerned officers at Norfolk Constabulary and trading standards officials at Suffolk County Council urged people to be alert for rogue traders.

Det Chief Inspector Colin Pearce, of Norfolk Police, said: “These people have no scruples and will take advantage of those in need particularly older or vulnerable people.

“They are professional criminals and we are aware that many such incidents go unreported. It is important we hear from anyone who feels they may have been targeted so we can catch the culprits.”

The force issued the following advice on dealing with callers to your door:

t Close and lock your back door before answering the front door

t Use a spy hole or window to have a look at the caller before answering the door. If you do not recognise them speak through the closed and locked door.

t Call the police if they do not leave or you need assistance.

t Never let anyone into your home unless you have confirmed their identity - always ask for proof of identity. Take it from the person through the letterbox and read it carefully.

t Phone the company or organisation the caller claims to be from using the number in the phone book to confirm their identity.

Reg Ruffles, assistant county trading standards at Suffolk said: “Don't be taken in by the person knocking at your door offering something which seems too good to be true - it probably is.”

Call Norfolk police on 0800 456 4567 and Suffolk Trading Standards on 01473 264859