Suspected tornado rips through Smith's

concrete walls, ripping the roofs from two homes and driving masonry into the earth.

"When I saw that shutter go I hit the deck,'' said Lorraine Gibson of Pokiok Road in Smith's.

concrete walls, ripping the roofs from two homes and driving masonry into the earth.

"When I saw that shutter go I hit the deck,'' said Lorraine Gibson of Pokiok Road in Smith's.

"I was down there shaking like a leaf.'' But Mrs. Gibson said she never saw what lashed into her home around 11.45 a.m.

"It happened and then it was over. I thought it was lightning. It was over in a period of seconds. Then it was dead calm.'' Nearby construction workers watched a tower of wind and water approach from offshore and then move onto land.

And Eugene Mills said the bizarre phenomenon was upon them seconds later.

"It's not a nice experience,'' he said. "You're working and then somebody shouts `tornado' and all of sudden guys are running in different directions.

"I didn't know where to run. My instinct was to get out the way and run for cover.'' Even Mr. Mills said he could not see what was believed to have been a tornado because of the enormous amount of debris flying through the air.

But he said the winds punched down a 20-foot interior wall before moving up the hill to unsuspecting homes.

Yesterday firefighters battled against high winds to place a protective sheet of plastic over a gaping hole in the roof of a house next to Mrs. Gibson's.

Like her, Lark Lombardo had no idea her house had been struck until she looked out.

The high winds blew over two sections of a concrete border wall around her pool and tore away the roof tiles from her pool house.

"It blazed a trail right through our two houses,'' she said. No other homes were damaged.

As Mrs. Gibson and her husband toured the devastation, they manoeuvred between broken masonry and fencing, scattered lawn furniture and overturned plants.

"That was out in the front of the house and it's all blown into a bizzillion pieces,'' Mrs. Gibson said, pointing to a child's play house.

The plastic fort was flung over the house before landing in bushes some 50 feet away.

And Mr. Gibson tugged on a piece of roof masonry wedged deep into the earth -- it did not move.

"That's not just dropped. That's been driven down,'' he said.

Earlier in the day a member of the public told The Royal Gazette there was a "tornado system'' sighted off Elbow Beach. But it apparently did not make landfall.

Despite evidence of high force winds, a spokesperson from the Bermuda Weather Service yesterday could not confirm the unusual phenomenon was indeed a tornado, as no official sightings were made.

"It should be stressed that severe gusts associated with downdrafts in thunderstorms may be sufficient to cause damage to property and they may be confused with tornadic activity, especially in a situation similar to today's,'' the spokesman said.

Although unconfirmed, yesterday's sudden fury may have been a "tornadic waterspout'' because it formed over water.

Tornadoes are rare in Bermuda, but recent incarnations occurred after Hurricane Emily in 1987 and in St. George's in 1986.

Path of destruction: Lorraine Gibson (above) looks out over the devastation left in the afternath of a brief, but powerful storm believed to be a tornado.

The storm's fury also left the twisted remains of a garden shed (upper left), while firefighters (lower left) scrambled up ladders to secure damaged roofs.

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