WORKERS escaped injury when gales tore a newly-installed roof off a building in a busy industrial estate, crushing 15 vehicles.
One man said the damage caused to the vehicles was “as if someone had dropped a JCB on top of them”.
The remnants of Hurricane Katia lashed Britain yesterday, causing very high winds across the country.
As gales swept the region, the entire roof flew off a building under construction at the Littleburn Industrial Estate, Langley Moor, four miles west of Durham, and smashed on to parked cars at the neighbouring Bako Northern site.
At first there were fears that people could be trapped in the rubble and four fire crews raced to the scene yesterday morning.
Steve Wharton, group manager for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue service said: “We got a call just after 9.30 to say a roof had fallen on cars at the Littleburn Industrial Estate.
“The wind lifted the pitched roof from the building under construction. It picked up and landed on 15 cars, which we believe belong to Bako staff. The construction site and the Bako site are about 10ft away from each other.
“Five routine fire appliances and a specialist appliance were called to the scene.”
A controlled demolition of the two ends of the building was due to take place as the structure was deemed unsafe in the high winds.
Sean Kelly, operations manager for catering firm Bako Northern, said: “Saying that a roof was blown off is probably an understatement.
“There are five units that are currently under construction and the wind has caused the whole building to collapse and it’s come down on to our property and demolished our fence and written off 15 of our cars.
“It’s a very distressing situation but to be honest when we’ve rang employees to tell them about the cars the first thing everyone has asked was whether there have been any casualties.
“We’ve assured them nobody was injured and we’ve ordered a load of taxis to take them to and from work for as long as it takes for people to get their insurance sorted. We want to make it as easy as possible for people.”
Mr Kelly added: “I didn’t hear it happen myself, at the time I was at the other side of the building, but a couple of members of staff have said that it sounded like a bomb going off, it was quite horrific really.
“I got a call saying that I should go and see what was going on out front and when I got there it was just unbelievable.
“I didn’t know if anybody was trapped, I didn’t know if workmen were still working on the units so that’s why I called the paramedics.
“It was just unbelievable, you can’t put into words, it was just something you never expect to see, to actually see a building come down and cause such devastation.
“There were bricks, tiles, plastic and bits of insulation blown everywhere.
“The cars have literally been crushed, it’s like someone has got a JCB and dropped it from the greatest height possible.”
The building which collapsed was in the process of being finished but there were no workers on site at the time. It was thought there were no doors on the property when the gust brought it down. It is not owned by Bako Northern and is on an adjoining site.
Page 3 - Driver killed in County Durham after gales bring chaos >>
Driver killed in County Durham after gales bring chaos
DANGEROUS conditions are expected to continue today after Hurricane Katia’s tail winds left a motorist dead and brought commuter chaos to the region.
A minibus driver was killed in County Durham when gusts of up to 80mph brought a tree down on the vehicle.
A passenger also needed hospital treatment following the accident, which happened at 3pm yesterday at Dunhouse Quarry, on the A688 in County Durham, between Staindrop and Barnard Castle.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of homes across the region were left without power, after energy bosses said they were dealing with more than 100 separate incidents causing the cuts.
Forecasters have said 40mph winds are expected to continue in the North East today, bringing fresh fears of travel misery for thousands of commuters.
Train services were temporarily suspended on the East Coast Main Line last night between Darlington and Durham and the Metro system across Tyneside when power cables were brought down in the gales. Trains had resumed by 10pm last night but were subject to delays.
Road traffic in Newcastle and Gateshead was also affected, with the Redheugh Bridge being closed to caravans and high-sided vehicles.
Forecasters said the weather, sparked by the tail end of the hurricane, would continue to be felt for at least the next 24 hours.
Dan Williams, from the Met Office, said: “There will still be strong gusts of around 40mph, and tomorrow winds could easily be in excess of 30mph before we get some respite on Thursday.”
Energy bosses reassured families they were last night doing everything possible to return to power to more than 20,000 people across the region.
David Gill, head of customer services CE Electric UK, said: “We have well-rehearsed emergency plans in place and I can reassure customers that all available engineers and linesmen are working to respond to the power cuts as quickly as possible.”
In Newcastle huge queues formed at Central Station as passengers waited for replacement buses to take them to Darlington, after a tree fell on the track in Ferryhill.
Jonathan Grimsey, 42, who works in Northumberland, had a two-hour delay on his journey from Cheshire to Newcastle.
He said: “We were stopped at York and had to get a coach to Newcastle and now I am trying to get to Morpeth and then to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. It has been a long day and it’ll be a short night before work tomorrow.”
Metro bosses confirmed a stretch of line between Pelaw and South Hylton, owned by Network Rail, had been affected by the gales.
A sheet of plastic had been blown on to live overhead power cables, between East Boldon and Sunderland, closing the line for 50 minutes.
Minor incidents at Tynemouth, North Tyneside, and Fawdon, Newcastle, also caused disruption to the timetable.
Page 5 - Councils prepared for bad weather with extra salt supplies >>
Councils prepared for bad weather with extra salt supplies
ARCTIC weather which brought the North East to a standstill last winter could return this year, but local authorities claim they are ready for it.
Councils across the region say they have bought extra rock salt supplies, and Newcastle Airport says it has bought extra ploughs and snow cutters to keep runways clear.
Although the Met Office has stopped publishing long range forecasts because they are regarded as too unreliable, private weather companies have produced computer models which show that the North East could be hit by another harsh winter with sub zero temperatures.
Network Rail explained that “checks and tests” are already being carried out on signals and points.
Northumberland County Council has purchased five new gritters to operate in the south east of the county and has stockpiled 40,000 tons of salt and grit.
Head of highways Andy Rutherford said: “Robust winter weather plans are in place. We have worked with local communities to ensure our plans are resilient.”
Durham County Council said that despite large spending reductions, the winter budget had been protected.
Corporate director of neighbourhood services Terry Collins said: “We will go into this winter with a salt stockpile of 45,000 tons, 5,000 tons more than last year but we are far from complacent.”
On North Tyneside the council has stockpiled 6,000 tons of salt, with another 500 tons ordered. South Tyneside has stockpiled 7,000 tons.
In Gateshead head of waste services and ground maintenance Colin Huntington said rock salt reserves had been increased. There was a similar message from Newcastle City Council where 12,000 tons is available.
Professional meteorologist Paul Michaelwaite said that arctic weather conditions could not be ruled out in the North East because computers had shown that cold weather could return.