Four dead as fierce winds leave trail of destruction in England
Four people, including Irish dad Donal Drohan, were killed yesterday as hurricane-force gales left hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power and millions of rail commuters stranded.
The near-100mph storm tore down hundreds of trees and flung them on to railway tracks, roads and electricity lines, causing chaos throughout southern England and Wales.
Rail operators halted nearly every train from the Home Counties into London during the morning rush hour, blaming the need to clear debris.
The St Jude's Day storm, named after the patron saint of lost causes, was the worst gale to hit Britain in more than a decade.
Sweeping east across the country from the early hours, it left a trail of devastation, including flooding and damage to properties and vehicles, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions to repair and clean up.
A 17-year-old grammar school girl was killed as she slept when a 30ft-tree crushed the caravan where she had been living while building work was carried out on her family's home.
Bethany Freeman lay trapped in the mobile home in Hever, Kent, while her mother, Tess Peirce, tried to comfort her and neighbours tried to free her using chainsaws and a mechanical digger. Emergency services arrived but were unable to save her.
One of the worst scenes of devastation was in Hounslow, west London, where two people died in an explosion suspected to have been caused by a falling tree rupturing a gas main.
The bodies of the man and woman, who have not been named, were found several hours after the blast in the rubble of one three houses that were destroyed. Three other people were taken to hospital with cuts and burns.
Neighbours said the explosion was so loud that they thought it was a plane crash. Rakesh Jain (40) said: "We looked out of our bedroom window and saw the houses were destroyed. There was no plume of smoke or any fire, just a huge hole where the houses once were."
Yesterday friends of a 14-year-old boy, named as Dylan Alkins, who was swept out to sea in Newhaven, East Sussex, on Sunday afternoon described the moment he was overwhelmed.
Paige Skinner (14) said a group of friends were watching the waves on the beach and that Dylan was 15 metres from the water when a 20ft wave swept him away.
The search for the teenager, who only moved to the town a month ago, continued yesterday as a woman believed to be his mother took to Facebook to pray her son was still alive.
Last night Dylan's step-grandmother, Pam Alkins (50) said: "We hope the sea will give him back to us, one way or another."
The storm left 625,000 homes and businesses in southern England without power during the course of the day. By 6.30pm, 459,000 properties had been reconnected but 166,000 remained without electricity.
Engineers were continuing to work through the night and more technicians were drafted in from other parts of the country to assist.
The gales led to the cancellation of more than 130 flights at Heathrow Airport and the closure of the port of Dover. (© Daily Telegraph, London)