July 29, 2008

Lightning Storms Lash Midlands

By Chris Henwood; Dale Williams

FIREFIGHTERS were swamped with hundreds of calls as storms brought torrential rain, thunder and lightning to the West Midlands.

Lightning struck a car showroom, setting several vehicles on fire, and also brought down trees.

Flashfloods left at least one motorist stranded, with the force of the water lifting manhole covers.

Firefighters took 360 calls at the height of the storms last night, when nearly 40mm of rain fell in a few hours.

And today, weather forecasters said more thunderstorms were on the way.

Fire crews from Willenhall were called to Carcraft, in Darlaston Road, Wednesbury, at 9.30pm to tackle a severe blaze involving four vehicles.

A West Midlands Fire Service spokesman said: "The blaze is being put down to a lighting strike since the security guard there reported seeing a blinding flash moments before the cars caught fire.

"We were at the scene very quickly and managed to stop the fire spreading to other cars for sale nearby. Four vehicles were badly damaged.

"Two crews using hoses and wearing breathing apparatus got the fire under control in a matter of minutes."

In Dudley, a motorist was helped to safety by firefighters after becoming stranded in on a flooded road.

In Birmingham, the Edgbaston area was particularly badly hit by heavy rain, while lightning hit trees in Handsworth Wood and Kings Norton.

Rainwater affecting electrical supplies in roofs and building up in basements formed the majority of other call outs as firefighters led residents to safety.

"Crews coped remarkably well as we took more than three times the normal number of calls, and it was still business as usual," said the spokesman.

"We even responded to two housefires - one Dudley at 11pm and one in Frankley at 2.15am."

Witton, Birmingham, which was badly hit in last year's floods, appeared to have escaped flooding problems overnight.

Patricia Steele, who runs Maura's cafe in Electric Avenue, said: "I would not wish what happened last year on anyone. It was absolutely awful with the water breaking the banks of the river and flooding everywhere.

"I was worried after all the rain last night but, though the river was high, it looked like there had been no flooding.

"I know the river has been fortified since last year and everyone around here has got their own individual flood defences in case it happens again."

A Met Office spokesan said nearly 40mm of rain fell in parts of the city between 6pm and 4am.

Lighter showers were likely to continue today, becoming more widespread tonight, with the chance of more thunderstorms. Some areas could expect up to 10mm more rain.

"There will be spits and spots of rain tomorrow, but again, not what we had yesterday," he said.

"And the recent muggy conditions should have given way to temperatures in the lower 20s.

"Thursday will see an increasing risk of showers - quite heavy, but not enough to cause flooding, just generally unpleasant conditions."

(c) 2008 Evening Mail; Birmingham (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.