Earthquake? No, 6ft hailstone drifts that fell on Devon in just one night
IT was the day a little English town was plunged into a new Ice Age.
What looked like glaciers engulfed cars, and streets were transformed into frozen wastes.
Torrential downpours overwhelmed the area before hailstones drummed down yesterday, causing drifts up to 6ft deep and turning roads into skating rinks.
More than 100 people had to be evacuated from their homes in Ottery St Mary, Devon. At least 25 were airlifted to safety or rescued by firefighters. But in the middle of the dark night of chaos, there was good news, too.
Pregnant Juliet Hall was rescued twice by police and Coastguards on the flooded A30 – first from her husband’s car and then an ambulance. She eventually gave birth in hospital to a son, Nathan. Another woman gave birth in the back of her car after it crashed in the treacherous conditions.
Emergency services were inundated with more than 150 calls as the floods rose to a depth of 5ft.
The freak storm struck just after midnight following a day of already heavy rain. The hailstones then blocked drains as the rain continued.
By 5am the entire town was cut off and rescue helicopters were scrambled. Emergency crews also sent in 4x4 vehicles, fire engines and boats to take residents to an evacuation centre at the local hospital.
One fire engine became stuck in a 6ft drift and a farmer was feared to have lost 500 sheep in a field buried under several feet of hail and sleet.
Fire service spokeswoman Susanne Reed said the situation was “absolute chaos”, the worst conditions in 25 years. She said: “It started just after midnight when we were out rescuing people stuck in their cars. It got worse and worse.”
Tony Fabry, who runs the town’s post office, said: “At one point I was watching beer barrels, sandwich boards and even a children’s slide floating down the road.
“It was absolutely horrendous. It was a nightmare and it happened so quickly.”
THE BIG FREEZE: Vehicles locked solid in blocks of ice and snowy wastes after a freak storm left hail and rain in frozen drifts. Right, a boy tries to clear a path through the chaos