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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 14:13 GMT
After the dust has settled
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Residents in Kensal Rise, London, were stunned after being hit by a tornado.

But what happens now the dust has settled?

Television camera and photographer
The worst hit area is cordoned off and surrounded by the media

Initially, nothing seems out of place.

The streets of Kensal Rise look much like those of any other suburb in the UK.

Skeletal trees, bereft of leaves, stand out amidst the grey pavements and similarly coloured, overcast skies.

So far, so predictable.

But even the least eagle-eyed of observers would quickly notice that something strange is happening.

The helicopter hovering over one spot is the first giveaway.

And, by the time police cordons, television crews and streets full of tradesmen come into view, it is clear that the streets are alive with the aftermath of a major event.

Thursday's tornado was as devastating as it was brief. Six people were injured, one seriously, and more than 100 homes were damaged - of which about 20 have severe structural damage.

And it is feared that some people may not be able to return to their homes for months.

Locals tell similar stories of the moment when the freak winds struck.

Hugh Clifford
It is fantastic that nobody was killed - I'm very surprised
Hugh Clifford
Insurance worker

"I heard a loud bang and looked out of the window. I saw a huge cone just behind a tree," said shopkeeper Geeta Patel, whose shop is on the street leading on to Chamberlayne Road, which was worst hit.

"It was dark grey and looked like a huge plume of smoke - then I realised it was wind. It all took place within a matter of seconds. We soon realised it was something worse than just a bad storm.

"Afterwards we went outside and saw a house where the side of the building had been ripped off.

"I couldn't believe that something which happened within seconds could do that."

Meanwhile, Rani Kinetani was outside when the freak weather struck.

"Me and a friend were lifting a TV when we saw the huge gust of wind. It slipped out of my hands and fell but we just left it and ran into the house," said Mr Kinetani, 45, of Kingsbury, north west London.

Lasting effects

"We saw roof slates flying off a building in a neighbouring street, so we knew it wasn't safe."

For residents living in neighbouring streets, the lasting effects of the freak weather is all too clear.

The building that suffered the most damage had the walls removed, exposing the interior like a giant doll's house.

And other houses bear the signs of having parts forcibly torn off and strewn on the ground, next to fallen branches.

Even houses which emerged largely unscathed have been left with minor defects, such as missing chimney stacks and patches where roof slates have disappeared.

Jimmy O'Brien, a builder, was outside when the tornado traced its path of destruction.

John Watson
John Watson is just one of many tradesman trying to fix the damage

After first marvelling at the spectacle, fear kicked in, forcing both him and his colleague to "run inside for cover".

"It was the kind of thing that I've seen in films, but I wouldn't expect it to happen in real life. Not here, anyway," he said.

Mr O'Brien is merely grateful that smashed windows marked the only scar left by the winds.

"We were so lucky. We were around 40 yards from devastation," he said.

Dundonald Road, where most of the houses were spared the worst of the devastation, is teeming with roofers and glaziers busily securing buildings following cosmetic damage.

Several homes have men on ladders clambering up the walls and roofs, while in the road colleagues sit in white vans sipping tea and unloading tools.

The hive of activity highlights the widespread fear that storm damage could present hazards by causing parts of buildings to crumble.

John Watson works for a roofing company which is among a number patching up buildings.

House with a missing chimney
Many houses have been left with defects following the tornado

He estimated that he and his colleagues were working on around 20 houses in the area.

"It's been extremely hectic. We don't usually have to work on projects on such a large scale," he said.

And he said that after preliminary repairs they would need to return.

"Hopefully most people will be able to return home immediately, but we might not be able to finish some of the work until after Christmas," he said.

Insurance assessors are still assessing the damage, but it is expected to run into millions of pounds.

Home within 'days'

Hugh Clifford, a contracts manager with a company which advises insurance companies, is leading a team of 30 workers who are attempting to assess damage and secure houses.

"I haven't seen wind damage that has caused as much damage as this in this country," said Mr Clifford, who has carried out assessments of this nature for the last five years.

"The amount of damage caused is high for such a small area. It is fantastic that nobody was killed. I'm very surprised."

He explained that he and his team would be "securing the properties and trying to make them as safe as possible".

"Our main mission is to get people back into their homes. A few houses are devastated, but about 85% of homes will be habitable within the next few days."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The tornado clean-up operation begins



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