A tree was blown into a house, another fell into car, a third fell across a railway line and a huge sinkhole appeared as high winds battered Hemel Hempstead.
The sinkhole in Oatridge Gardens, Adeyfield, appeared at about 7.30am on Saturday. Police have taped off the road and evacuated the people who live nearby from their homes.
Police spokesman Hannah Williams said: “The hole, which is in a residential cul de sac, has mainly affected the road. However, seventeen properties have been evacuated for the safety of residents in the area.
“The hole is approximately 35ft wide and 20ft deep.
“Police are working with partner agncies, including Dacorum Borough Council, specialist structural engineers and utilities companies to assess the situation.
“The road, and surrounding roads, have been closed for the safety of residents and whilst agencies work at the scene.”
Transport workers are still working to remove the tree from its position between Hemel Hempstead and Apsley train stations.
Operator London Midland said on Twitter: “As a result of the line problems, there is a reduced service operating between Euston and Tring until further notice.”
The tree fell onto the railway line at about 12.30am overnight – a few hours after a tree fell and hit a house in St Albans Hill, Bennetts End.
Sapna Dave was at home with her parents Pravin and Mala at the time.
She said: “It’s all structural damage. We are all fine, so that’s OK. We have just got this huge tree now to get rid of.”
She said the conifer knocked down the garden wall separating the property from their neighbour’s and damaged their drains – but the house itself is fine.
She said: “If it was half-a-metre taller, it would have crashed into the bedroom and breached the ceiling, but luckily it has just broken the drainpipes instead.
“It was quite a shock, and felt like as much of a vibration to the house as when Buncefield happened.”
Meanwhile, a tree fell from a garden in Glenview Road, Hemel Hempstead, crushing Simon Jones’ car and blocking the street to all passing motorists.
He said: “It was more of a shock than anything else. I normally park my car on my driveway, but parked it on the other side of the road because I have got scaffolding on my house, trying to do the right thing, and then a tree fell on it.
“The neighbours whose garden it has come from are quite upset and want to get it sorted, because it’s blocking the road.
“The car looks like a write-off as it has gone right across the width of the car. The roof caved in, the windows popped out and all of the tyres are flat.”
He said the tree is about one foot in diameter and about 50 feet tall. It came down at about 5am.
Firefighters from Hemel Hempstead’s Queensway emergency services hub had multiple wind-related call-outs overnight.
They rushed to nearby Herbert Street in the Old Town at about 11.45pm after tarpaulin had been blown off some scaffolding and become intertwined with a chimney.
One of the chimney pots had already fallen off, but they stopped it from happening to any of the others. On their way back, they removed a wobbly shop sign in the Old Town High Street.
That was less than an hour after they cordoned off the area in front of Hemel Hempstead’s Quasar in the Marlowes after scaffolding above it became loose.
Chief inspector for Dacorum Glenn Channer said the sinkhole was also under the road and nearby homes. He said the gas board, water board and Herts Highways are at the scene.
He said one of the people who was evacuated from the homes nearby was a heavily pregnant woman.
He added that the gas main may have been damaged, causing safety concerns, and that there could be further subsidence. The area’s gas supply will soon be cut off.
He said there are no signs that the sinkhole is getting bigger and police have got the area around it cordoned off.
He said: “I have been working here for 14 years and I am not aware of anything like this having happened in the past.”
MP SUPPORTS SINKHOLE EVACUEES
Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning has paid tribute to the work of the emergency services, Dacorum Borough Council and the Highways Authority for helping the area cope with high winds.
He said: “The emergency services, council staff and utility companies have been working round the clock and they have been doing a tremendous job in difficult conditions. The weather over the past weeks has been unprecedented.
“I really feel for the residents who have been evacuated and the terrible situation they now find themselves in. This is very frightening and traumatic for them. I have spoken to some of them and I pledge that I will help out in any way I can.
“Some of the residents had recently contacted me about their concerns at movement in the earth in the area and I had already been in touch with the housing association on their behalf.
“For now, the important thing is to help those who have to move out of their homes. If there are lessons to be learned, then we can look into that later on.”
‘I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO GRAB MY PURSE,’ SAYS EVACUEE
It has been revealed that subsidence issues at the property where the sinkhole appeared were first revealed to its landlord more than a month ago.
Tenant Carla Rance, who lives in the house next-door to the one over the sinkhole, told Hightown Praetorian & Churches housing association that her garden and porch had moved on Monday, January 3.
Her porch was demolished but as workers sent to the property had differing views on whether the problems were caused by a sinkhole, nothing was done before Saturday.
She was evacuated from her home at 7.30am on that day with sons Connor, 14, and Taylor, 11, daughter Lexi, seven, and boyfriend Ross Miller, 30.
She said: “I just had some police knocking on the door at half past seven to say: ‘You need to evacuate. There is a sinkhole outside.’
“I didn’t get time to grab anything – not even my purse, or clothes. We just had to get out.”
Nobody from Dacorum Borough Council or Hightown Praetorian & Churches was available to comment at the time when this article was updated on Monday.
It has been suggested that the sinkhole may have been caused by a burst water pipe.
But Affinity Water spokesman Sue Pavey said: “We were called by the Police at 8.20am on Saturday. Water was leaking outside one home due to a dislodged supply pipe, so the supply to that property was turned off at the boundary supply stop tap.
“The road has been closed and we are awaiting further instructions from the structural engineers in attendance on when we can return to site. We can confirm that there was not a burst water main at this site.”
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