Birmingham tornado remembered five years on

Image caption Alder Road in Balsall Heath was one of the worst affected areas

On 28 July 2005, parts of south Birmingham were devastated by a freak tornado.

Five years on, residents and emergency services remember the frightening moment it struck.

Nasir Akhtar was putting up shelves in his home in Alder Road, Balsall Heath, when a loud banging noise began outside and the sky darkened.

"I could hear materials banging against the door," the 29-year-old teacher said.

"When I looked outside I could actually see debris flying and it went totally dark within about five minutes.

"You could hear car alarms going off and cars had been flung around.

"The windows upstairs popped first, the wardrobe and bed started flying towards the door.

"Then the front window popped downstairs.

"I grabbed my brother-in-law and we ran into the pantry downstairs - it was the only place where there wasn't glass.

"There was so much noise. I had no idea what was happening. It was so quick our brains could not comprehend it."

The tornado lasted just a few minutes but caused an estimated £40m of damage in the Moseley, Kings Heath, Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook areas of the city.

Twenty people were injured and taken to hospital as the tornado reached speeds of up to 130mph.

It travelled over a one kilometre path, past 4,400 homes and 617 businesses, lifting off entire roofs and uprooting trees.

There were no deaths - it was about 1430 BST and most people were not at home.

Alder Road in Balsall Heath was the worst affected area.

Mr Akhtar and his family, along with many others, had to evacuate their home and were only able to move back in 13 months later.

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Media captionAftermath of the 2005 tornado

The roof had been ripped off and needed to be replaced.

The house has since been redecorated and has new furniture - the only item the family managed to salvage was a bed.

Caroline Ward, owner of the Jon Carrie nursery on School Road, Moseley, was taking care of 23 children aged between two and four, who were playing outside when the tornado began.

"All I seem to remember is that the light went peculiar, it was a peculiar light, it was almost dark but it was not dark," she said.

"I got worried and got all the children in.

"Within two minutes it was like watching a version of the Wizard of Oz, with the whirlpool going round.

"It took all the toys in the playground - the big plastic house, the trampoline, slides - and the six-foot high fencing.

"I was just very thankful we got the children in because it would have taken the children."

Firefighters Sean Moore and Rudy Parkes, international search and rescue specialists, were called to help look for casualties.

"To be honest, I thought it was a little bit of a joke at first," said Mr Moore, from West Midlands Fire Service. "You just don't get tornados in Birmingham.

"As we made our way there we saw huge great trees lying on the roads which started to hammer home to us how serious it was going to be."

More than 100 firefighters were deployed, along with 25 fire engines.

"I just could not believe we did not have any deaths," he said. "If it had been in the middle of the night, we would have had a huge number of deaths for sure."

More than 160 people were moved to temporary accommodation as Birmingham City Council began a clean-up operation.

Image caption The roof of Nasir Akhtar's home on Alder Road was ripped off

Ladypool Road, a busy high street at the heart of Birmingham's 'Balti Triangle' - famed for its Asian cuisine - was hit badly, with many shops and restaurants left in need of urgent repair.

A £1m fund to help these businesses was set up by the council, which included a marketing campaign to encourage people back to the area.

It took Khalid Rafiq, who runs Royal Sweets on Ladypool Road, almost two years to get his business back on track.

The shop has been fully restored and customers have returned but business is still tough.

"I have nearly recovered but it's not like before the tornado," he said. "The tornado came and within seconds it took the business down.

"Once you have gone down a bit it takes time to come up again."

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