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1950: Tornado sweeps southern England

Two people have died in violent storms and a tornado which have devastated southern England.

Several others were injured in lightning strikes and fierce winds which caused massive damage to property around London.

The two who died were Frederick Cast and James Perry, of Kempston in Bedfordshire. Both were struck by lightning and killed as they ran for shelter.

Three others with them were injured and taken to hospital.

Black cloud

The worst damage to property was caused by a tornado which began in the late afternoon in Buckinghamshire.

Eyewitnesses spoke of a dense, black cloud gathering on the horizon and quickly developing into the dark column of a tornado.

It swept through towns and villages across the top of London as far as the Cambridgeshire fens, leaving ruin in its wake.

Terrifying wind

In the Buckinghamshire village of Linslade, the terrifying wind wrecked hundreds of houses and other buildings as it tore through the streets and surrounding fields.

One resident, Tony Birch, described the scene:

"When we looked out of the side of the house, clouds appeared to be coming together in different directions.

I believe I saw the actual source of the tornado."

Dozens homeless

Whole streets of houses were stripped of their roof tiles, with furniture inside ruined by the heavy rain which followed.

Dozens of people have been made homeless, and relief workers are now helping those affected.

There were extraordinary scenes as the wind passed over: hundreds of trees were uprooted, drawn into the air and dropped large distances away.

The tornado also lifted up parked cars, cattle and horses and dumped them in nearby fields.

Witnesses said the tornado was 50 yards (45.7 metres) wide in places, although it shrank to just 5 yards (4.6 metres) wide in others.

It took less than an hour to travel from one end of the village to the other, but it caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage.

Flood warnings

Other towns in the tornado's path were also badly affected.

About half a mile from Linslade, in the town of Leighton Buzzard, a shop in the high street was struck by lightning and set on fire, while in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a double-decker bus was overturned.

There are warnings of further flooding throughout the entire region, and it's likely that the difficult weather conditions will continue.

In Context
The path of the 1950 tornado was at least 66 miles long. It remains the longest trail on record for a tornado in England, and at two and a half hours the tornado is the longest lasting on record in Europe.

In Linslade alone, 200 houses were damaged, 50 extensively. The Ministry of Supply handed out 450 tarpaulins to cover damaged roofs.

A further victim of the storms was eight-year-old Jennifer Margaret Reeves, who was swept away by flood waters and drowned.

One or two tornadoes are reported every year in the UK, of varying severity. Most are very limited in area, and cause damage over a narrow band not many miles in length.

They generally happen as a result of violent thunderstorms, and are caused by strong air currents within a storm cloud creating a high-speed funnel of wind.


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