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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK


Mini twisters wreak havoc

The tornado stunned eye-witnesses

A huge clean-up operation is under way in a Midlands suburb after a mini-twister tore off roofs and ripped up plants.

Richard Bilton in Birmingham: "People couldn't believe what they were seeing"
Stunned residents watched the tornado sweep past their homes in Selly Oak, near Birmingham, early on Monday evening.

And more than 20 people were evacuated from their homes when torrential rain produced flooding of up to four feet in Pendeford, Wolverhampton.

[ image: Homes across central England were hit by flooding]
Homes across central England were hit by flooding
There were also reports of heavy rain and smaller tornadoes in several other counties.

Staffordshire Police said the conditions had caused havoc in the Stoke-on-Trent area.

The hardest hit towns were in the south of the county, particularly Wombourne, Rugeley and Cannock.

At one stage Cannock was described by police as being "like an island" and 700 residents were effectively cut off by flash floods.

Weathermen have already said that the high winds and tornadoes could return to the area.

Weather forecast
Geoff Turford, 76, lives in Wellman Croft - the Selly Oak street hit by the twister.

He said it could only be seen by the debris it was pulling up, which included bin bags, fencing, leaves and plants.

"I was sat in the back window and I thought it was going to break,'' said the former car worker.

"The next thing I saw was a dustbin bag come up from the street and fly past the window like a kite.

"Then the branches of trees started bending and I called to my wife Doreen to come over and have a look.

"Then we saw tiles being ripped from the roofs of neighbouring houses. You could see where it was going by the debris it was pulling up into the air."

[ image: Some people had to be evacuated from their homes]
Some people had to be evacuated from their homes
Home-owner Angela Henn said as people tried to batten down the hatches debris was flying past their windows.

"I ran inside and tried to close the windows, but that was difficult with things flying in. It was really frightening.

"Bin bags of rubbish have been tossed all over the place, people's homes and gardens have been wrecked."

Although relatively rare, tornadoes are by no means unknown in the UK, according to Dr David Reynolds, at the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation.

He said as many as 33 strike the country every year.

[ image: Emergency crews were stretched to the limit by the conditions]
Emergency crews were stretched to the limit by the conditions
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air which travels across land.

"I like to compare it to the way you unscrew a cork out of a bottle," said Dr Reynolds.

"The air rotates in a helix - in other words, up and around. In the centre of the tornado winds are actually very light and descend towards the ground."

They happen when warm air masses and cold air masses collide over land.

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