Miracle escape as storm lashes city
A PLYMOUTH man whose car was crushed by a giant tree in the most violent storm to hit Plymouth this year says it was "a miracle" that nobody was killed.
The city was battered by gale-force winds and pounding rain as 70mph gusts damaged property and brought down power lines.
CLOSE SHAVE: David Campbell surveys the wreckage of his father's car at Elfordleigh
EYE OF THE STORM: People view the scene at Bovisand beach as waves pound the seafront. Right: gales lash the Hoe foreshore
STORM DAMAGE: Bovisand Beach, above; A Hoe wind casualty, right; A wall collapse at Plympton
Stephen Campbell was one of four drivers who had a lucky escape when a 50ft oak tree came crashing down at a Plympton leisure complex, his Vauxhall Zafira taking the full force of the impact.
He had only just left his car when the tree came down in the Elfordleigh Hotel's car park at about 5.30pm on Friday, during some of the heaviest winds of the weekend.
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The 50-year-old said: "I'd only just arrived at the gym, I hadn't long got changed.
"I went outside when it happened and the trunk was just straight through the middle of the car.
"The first thing I thought was 'If this was fifteen minutes earlier...'.
"Nobody could have got out of there alive. I feel really lucky.
"The whole thing is in half. The dashboard has completely gone and there's no gearstick left – it's a real mess.
"It doesn't bear thinking about what might have happened.
"It's a miracle no one was killed."
Stephen's son Dan, a leisure assistant at the Elfordleigh, added: "When I got there the car was split in two – everything was in half and the engine was just mangled."
Amazingly, one man crawled uninjured from the wreckage of his own car which, although not as flattened as Stephen's, was parked just inches away.
Eyewitness Ian Stephens, from Higher Compton, raised the alarm when the drama unfolded in front of him as he walked back to his car.
"It was a scary moment," he said. "There was rubble everywhere."
Another witness, Steve Tomlinson, from Chaddlewood, said: "It was unbelievable. The noise was incredible.
"We all ran outside and couldn't believe the mess. The weather was wild."
Emergency services worked through Friday night as the vicious weather threatened safety on roads across the region.
A man from Looe was lucky to escape with just minor injuries when his car hit a fallen tree and rolled into a field.
The 64-year-old had to be cut free from his Ford Fiesta after the smash on the A390 near Liskeard.
Structural engineers were called to the Morley Service Station, at Laira Bridge, after firefighters had to remove part of Jet garage's roof, with strong winds almost blowing part of the canopy off.
Power lines came down in Moorland Road, Plympton, and in Gunnislake, with hundreds of people in Devon and Cornwall temporarily losing electricity.
There were other fallen trees in Haye Road, Elburton, on the A379 near Modbury and another between Bickleigh Barracks and Shaugh Prior.
Elsewhere in Plymouth, police had reports of shop signs being blown off in Ebrington Street, a 20-foot television aerial dangling from a building in Albany Street, Devonport, and scaffolding on the verge of collapse in Granby Way.
A full-scale search of the River Tamar was also launched when a 54-year-old yachtsman went missing for more than eight hours before being found.
But weather experts have hinted there could be brighter skies – and even record high temperatures – on the horizon.
Met Office forecaster Nigel Bolton predicted outbursts of rain and strong winds throughout last night, which should have passed by this morning.
He said Plymouth was due to face a grey start today, developing into a bright and breezy day with just a few scattered showers.
"We're keeping a beady eye on developments in the Atlantic," he said. "But we are over the worst of the storms for now.
"From what we are seeing we could have some record temperatures ahead for this time of year, up to 15 or 16 degrees."