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INSIDE THE TORNADO: “It was like being in the Wizard of Oz"

INSIDE THE TORNADO: “It was like being in the Wizard of Oz

Thursday 02 November 2023

INSIDE THE TORNADO: “It was like being in the Wizard of Oz"

Thursday 02 November 2023


Islanders have shared their first-hand experiences of having their homes torn apart by a suspected tornado that left "bomb-like" scenes of devastation across the island last night – forcing some to flee for shelter.

St Clement and St Helier bore the brunt of Storm Ciarán last night, with a suspected tornado hitting the south-east of the island leaving what residents described as "devastation" in its wake.

Damage was particularly severe around FB Fields, Grève d’Azette and Rue des Prés – although there was disruption island-wide, with trees downed, roofs blown off, windows broken, electricity supplies cut and boats pulled from their moorings.

Was it a tornado?

Matt Winter, Senior Forecaster with the Jersey Met Office confirmed: “A tornado is very likely to have happened, from the damage we can see and when it happened in association with a severe thunderstorm. We are looking to confirm that.” 

Three people were taken to hospital and 67 people had been moved out of their homes into parish halls and hotels due to the disruption.

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Pictured: The suspected tornado wrecked havoc on the south-east of the island. (Kerry Leadbetter)

There was heavy rain and winds of Storm Force 10 to Violent Storm Force 11 recorded, with a Hurricane Force 12 wind briefly hitting St Helier. 

The highest wind speed recorded was 104 mph. 

A short but intense thunderstorm around midnight produced large hailstones, which damaged tiles, windows and vehicles. 

There was flooding reported in St Clement and Beaumont. 

There’s about five or six houses here that don’t have a roof"

Kerry Leadbetter – whose St Clement home was in the eye of the suspected tornado – described the “devastation” across her neighbourhood near FB fields. 

“Huge, established trees from FB fields are gone,” she said. “There’s about five or six houses here that don’t have a roof.  

“Ambulances have been here, people have been evacuated.” 

“My neighbour’s house looks like a bomb site,” added Miss Leadbetter. 

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Pictured: “My neighbour’s house looks like a bomb site.” (Kerry Leadbetter)

“I wasn’t really worried before it happened,” she admitted. 

 “Some of my elderly neighbours said they slept through the Great Storm in 1987, but now huge hailstones have ripped through every piece of glass in the houses here.” 

“I didn’t know that a tornado like you see on TV was coming"

Miss Leadbetter described what it was like being in the centre of what Jersey Met Office has said is "very likely" to be a tornado in the south-east of the island.

“It was like being in the Wizard of Oz,” she said, describing the visual “swirly-whirly” patterns of the wind. 

“I’ve never experienced a tornado before, so didn’t know what it was,” she said. 

“I didn’t know that a tornado like you see on TV was coming.” 

Miss Leadbetter said that, as it began, the “most frightening sensation came over the whole house”. 

“At first there was lightning, but then a strange noise and strange darkness came over the whole house. 

“The dogs were so frightened.” 

“Brick walls have gone down"

She explained that the roof of the wooden chalet in her garden was blown off, and flew all the way over her house. 

Meanwhile, equipment from the nearby playing fields was thrown over a 15-foot fence and into people’s homes. 

Miss Leadbetter continued: “It wasn’t the high winds later [that caused the most damage], it was the tornado earlier on. 

“Brick walls have gone down, and we’ve lost four huge, established trees – three of which went off in the tornado.” 

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Pictured: The devastation in St Clement. (Kerry Leadbetter)

Miss Leadbetter and her family are still waiting to be evacuated. 

“We’ve lost the roof at the back,” she said. “But we’re in no immediate danger; not like other people.” 

Miss Leadbetter explained: “You don’t want people coming out and risking their lives to evacuate you when you can persevere.” 

"At least we’re safe"

“I’m too scared to look at my own car,” she said. “You know, you work hard for these things, and it’s difficult to replace. But at least we’re safe.” 

Miss Leadbetter added that she was glad that her son slept through most of the chaos. 

“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens now,” she said. 

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Pictured: “I’m too scared to look at my own car." (Kerry Leadbetter)

Meanwhile, fellow St Clement parishioners Ashleigh Quail-Charleston and his wife, Brenda, were evacuated from their home in Princess Elizabeth Court in the early hours of this morning.

Mr Quail-Charleston described how he got up at around 23:30 to go to the toilet, and was faced with “bright lightning” and “really loud thunder”.

“The lounge windows exploded"

“The wind was like as if there was a vacuum,” he said.

“Suddenly, the lounge windows exploded in and dragged everything inside.”

He explained that the outside layer of his double-glazed kitchen windows was also shattered by “hand-sized hailstones”.

“It was chaos,” said Mr Quail-Charleston. “My missus was screaming and shouting.

“I think everyone was panicking.”

"You have to get out, it’s too dangerous"

The Fire Service arrived at the St Clement’s residential court to assess the damage, and the Quail-Charlestons were told: “You have to get out, it’s too dangerous.”

Mrs Quail-Charleston called the Parish of St Clement’s helpline at around 02:00, and the couple were evacuated by 02:30.

They are now staying at a family member’s house, and do not know when they will be able to return to their home.

“Our roof has got holes in it, so there’s no protection from the elements,” said Mr Quail-Charleston.

“I know our neighbour has water gushing into his bedroom.

“The wind has died down now, but the damage is already done.”

He said that he expects many of the properties on his road to now be “unliveable”.

"Our belongings will probably be destroyed"

Mr Quail-Charleston continued: “We’ll try and go round there soon to assess the damage, but we’re a bit nervous going back home.

“My cars have been completely destroyed by slates and fences, and my garden completely is gone.

“There’s no furniture, no fence; everything has been thrown everywhere.”

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Pictured: The clean-up began this morning across the island.

He admitted that it was going to be “hard” for his wife to see the damage to their home.

“I know she’ll break down when she sees it,” said Mr Quail-Charleston.

“If our roof has gone and all the water has come in, then all our belongings will probably be destroyed.”

“But we’re here and we’re safe,” he added. “That’s the main thing.”

Storm-shattered window caught on baby monitor

Among the other islanders to receive an overnight shock was mum Jess O'Reilly. 

She was sleeping when the 100mph gusts blew her window in – a shocking scene which was captured on her baby monitor.

Other evacuations

Martin Fernando, who runs the island’s largest insurance-approved accident repair centre at Rue des Prés, explained that eight staff flats above the garage had to be evacuated due to safety concerns after gates flew off from the next-door Pentagon depot. 

“My staff have children and babies, so they couldn’t remain there. The police were absolutely fantastic and helped evacuate around 15 of my staff quickly to the Radisson Hotel, where they stayed the night. No one was hurt," he said.

St Lawrence Constable Deidre Mezbourian said that no one in the parish had been injured, as far as she was aware, and only one family, at La Providence, had had to be evacuated to the Radisson Hotel because a tree fell on their property. 

As of 06:00, the Fire and Rescue Service had received around 100 emergency calls and 300 non-emergency calls, mostly reporting structural damage. 

With high tide at 08:40 with a 1.1m storm surge expected, Victoria Avenue and Havre des Pas remained closed. Gloucester Street was also closed because the roof of the Hospital’s paediatric wing was damaged. 

Bus services were suspended until further notice, with many roads around the island closed due to falling trees.

Follow Express for all the latest updates...

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