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The British weather is a constant topic of conversation.
Often unpredictable, it's now having an even bigger effect on our lives.
Dangerous floods threaten our homes, forest fires devastate
our countryside, and savage storms ravage our coastlines.
Today, we find out what happens to Britain when it gets hit by freak weather.
We'll see the stories of people's lives
that have been turned upside down by the totally unexpected.
No way! Look at that!
No way! There's a tornado!
And we'll show you how to protect yourself, your home and your family from disaster.
Welcome to Living Dangerously.
We've all seen the reports of terrible flooding and storm damage,
but what's it really like when extreme weather nearly ruins lives?
Today we hear two incredible stories.
Coming up on Living Dangerously...
It's a lucky escape for a 67-year-old woman when
a freak tornado rips through her home and community in Birmingham.
There was just branches of trees and glass everywhere.
And a teenager from Gloucestershire is left stranded in some of the worst flooding the UK has ever seen.
I started to lose feeling in my legs initially.
That's when I started to get worried that I wasn't going to be able to get out.
With home video, actual footage and reconstruction,
we show what happened during these real-life weather events.
Birmingham is the UK's second largest city,
and just a few miles from its centre lies Balsall Heath, which encompasses the Balti Triangle,
an area named after the abundance of curry houses there which serve this famous dish.
This neighbourhood is also home to Marilyn Lee.
It's a very friendly neighbourhood, a very mixed population. It's...
Well, everybody's very friendly.
67-year-old Marilyn has lived in Birmingham all her life,
and after a 30-year career as a nursery nurse, she decided to relax and enjoy a peaceful retirement.
But on Thursday the 28h of July, 2005,
a day which started off bright and sunny
suddenly turned, throwing Marilyn's life into utter chaos.
This incredible sight over Birmingham's rooftops was captured by one resident on camera.
No way! Look at that!
No way! There's a tornado!
Look at it, man, it's everywhere!
Marilyn's invited me to her house so I can find out more about what happened on that terrifying day.
-Hi, Marilyn, Nadia.
Pleased to meet you. Can I come in?
Marilyn, how long have you lived in this house?
So did you bring your kids up here?
-No, I didn't, no. I moved here when I got divorced.
-A new start?
Yes, it was a new start, yes. Yes.
I didn't live that far away before,
but I didn't really know it that well round here.
-Do your children live nearby?
-They all live really close, yes.
My one daughter lives very close, just up the steps from here.
My son must be about a mile away.
Birmingham often comes up against rain and high winds, but back in July 2005, it was to see
a side of the weather which would stun local residents
and wreak havoc through a small close-knit community.
Marilyn, I'm going to take you back to the 27th of July, 2005.
What happened on that day?
Well, on that day, it seemed like a perfectly normal day.
I think I'd been shopping in the morning and then decided
to go round to see my son because he was going on holiday the next day,
and we were just sitting there having a nice little conversation.
The weather forecast for that day was bright with sunny spells
and, as predicted, the morning began with sunshine.
But at 2:15 that afternoon, the weather turned and
a huge thunder cloud formed around the Balti Triangle area.
Loud rolls of thunder and flashes of lightning startled the locals.
Meanwhile, just one mile up the road,
Marilyn was completely oblivious to this sudden change in the weather.
Tell me how your friend Mark was involved.
He was looking after my grandson, my younger grandson.
I remember looking out the window and
seeing the colour of the sky.
We just saw this really yellow-purple colour
like you've never ever seen before.
And then...maybe 20, 30 seconds later, suddenly this wind just came.
There's some trees about 30, 40 feet away from us, and they were just
going absolutely mental. They were just going flying
in every single direction at the same time.
That must've gone on for 40, 50 seconds, maybe a minute,
and once it stopped, it was absolutely serenely calm.
You couldn't hear a thing.
The leaves weren't even rustling.
It's often reported that before a tornado, there is an uneasy calm.
Thinking that the storm was over,
locals had no idea they were about to experience
one of the UK's most extreme weather phenomena in over 70 years.
And, at 2:30pm, the tornado struck Birmingham.
The 130mph twister measured 500 metres in width.
No way! There's a tornado!
Look at it, man, it's everywhere!
The swirling vortex had been caused by a band of low-level hot air
coming up from the tropics, hitting a wall of high-level cold air on its way over from the Arctic,
creating the perfect conditions for this particular weather event.
Lasting just four minutes, it continued on a seven-mile tirade
through the districts of the Balti Triangle,
before moving onto Balsall Heath, tearing up Ladypool and Alder Road,
then ripping down Birchwood Road,
destroying everything in its path and causing absolute chaos.
The people of Birmingham couldn't fight this freak storm and their only option was to run for cover.
Something which is unnatural, or just something you hadn't really experienced before,
and it had just come from nowhere and had just come really, really quickly.
You're just fearful of this something which was different
from your normal experience of life.
Marilyn was visiting her son just one mile away from her home when she received the startling news.
I got a telephone call from my younger daughter,
who told me there'd been a tornado.
OK. I'm just going to pause you just there.
We're in Birmingham at the moment.
Do tornadoes happen regularly in Birmingham?
No, I have never known one before.
Apparently they did many, many, MANY years ago, but it's the first one I knew about.
Her daughter had told her that the tornado had ripped through her street,
leaving a trail of destruction.
Desperate to see if her house was OK, Marilyn and her son headed straight over.
I got in my car and my son got in his car.
We drove as close as we could, which was still a good distance away
because all the roads were blocked with fallen trees and debris and everything.
The emergency services sprang into action, calling on one of their specialist units 20 miles away
that are trained to deal with major disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes both at home and abroad.
Station commander Sean Moore got the call.
The amount of destruction that had actually gone on in our city centre,
in Birmingham, you know, not far from Birmingham city centre -
it's the kind of destruction that I've seen overseas,
and certainly I've been out to two Turkish earthquakes.
A lot of the damage that was caused was very reminiscent of that type of area and that type of event.
To see huge trees just completely ripped up out of the ground and loads of cars that had been moved,
turned on their side, and we even had reports of cars being moved 20, 30 metres down the road.
Just utter amazement, really, that it can happen within a city.
Sean and his team would seal off roads to trace and analyse the path of the tornado and
provide specialist dog teams to help the regular fire crew
locate people trapped in collapsed buildings.
Meanwhile, Marilyn managed to get past the fallen trees and debris
to reach her street where she was met by a scene of devastation.
I had the shock of my life to find my house with no roof, windows broken,
and everything in total chaos with broken trees and branches and
Marilyn's friend Mark joined her at the catastrophic scene.
The closer and closer we got to Marilyn's house,
the worse the devastation became.
There were trees across the road which you were having to scramble across, massive trunks,
try and get through branches. You just don't realise how big a tree is until it's actually on the ground.
And you're starting to see cars which are on their ends.
It just looked like Beirut. There's walls open, there's roofs open,
you were expecting to see dead people.
Coming up... How will Birmingham's emergency services cope with such chaos?
I'm trying to convince them that they needed to come out when you've got unstable chimney stacks.
One more gust of wind and they could've come straight through the roof and injured more people.
And Marilyn sees the devastation inside her house for the first time.
There were just trees and branches everywhere. It was just unbelievable.
Gloucestershire is one of England's most beautiful counties,
famed for the rolling hills of the Cotswolds and
its numerous rivers which drain into the Severn and the Thames.
To the north of the county lies Swindon village, home to 17-year-old Vicky Higgins.
Vicky is a show jumping enthusiast and, as well as caring for her own horse,
helps looks after her sister's horses
in a stable half a mile away from her home.
In 2007, the UK experienced one of the wettest summers in over 240 years,
causing flooding in many parts of the country.
The month of June received more than double the average rainfall,
with some areas encountering
a month's worth of rain in just one day.
On July 20th, hot humid air from southern Europe
met with cold air coming from the Atlantic,
resulting in unimaginable rainfall over the Gloucestershire area.
That morning, Vicky and her family woke up to a shocking sight.
Getting up, I looked out my window, cos I do it every morning,
and I just looked on my driveway
and the whole half of my driveway was flooded!
And the car was parked right up against my window,
so obviously we just weren't getting out.
We'd have flooded the engine.
The water was just gushing
down the side of the house.
My neighbour has opened his drain
to try and get rid of the water and it was gushing down.
It was just torrential rain and it just kept getting worse and worse.
The road outside our house flooded and gradually things were just grinding to a halt.
A few miles down the road, Cinderford Fire and Rescue team
had already received dozens of calls for help,
unaware they were on the brink of one of the worst civil emergencies the UK had ever seen.
The calls were being stacked up by our control because the volume was so high
and all the pumps were stretched to the limit so,
as we finished one call, we would then book ourselves available
from that incident and control would then direct us on to the next incident.
Tremendous. The water, the houses, the people suffering.
Just beyond belief, to be honest.
Throughout the day, the water was continuing to rise and the flooding was worsening by the minute.
At 2:30 that afternoon, Vicky's mum got a call from her other daughter,
Kate, who had left the house that morning to go to work but was now stranded and unable to return home.
I said to Vicky, "You stay here, I'll go and get Kate,"
and it took me about an hour to get to Tewkesbury which is about
a 10, 15 minute drive and, by the time I got back,
Vicky had gone!
A lady just rang the house and said...
I don't know how she got our number or anything like that.
I don't know how she managed to contact us, but her house overlooked where our horses were.
And she said
they only had about ten feet of water...of the land left before the water was going to be covering it,
so I was like, "Oh, OK then, I'd better go down.
"I'll be down in a minute," sort of thing.
With the rain continuing to pour down,
Vicky was growing more concerned for the welfare of her horses.
She then made a decision which she would later regret.
At 3pm, she left the house and decided to attempt the rescue alone.
When I went outside, the rain was still really, really heavy.
It was really, really thick and I was going to go the road way,
which is the way I've always walked, but obviously with the cars floating in the water,
I don't really think it would be such a great idea if I decided to wade through there,
so I walked the back route, which I thought would be safer, but it wasn't.
It wasn't safer at all. It was completely the wrong thing to do.
Halfway through her journey, Vicky ran into trouble.
Because of the sheer volume of water flowing down from the neighbouring hills,
what was normally a perfectly dry public footpath running under a railway bridge
had been transformed into a raging torrent of water
which Vicky had to cross to get to the horses.
I could feel it getting deeper as I walked in
and then obviously the current got too strong when it got past my knees,
and my knees couldn't fight it any more, so I thought,
"Right, I'm going to have to turn back."
And when I started to turn back, that's when I noticed
that the water was getting deeper and deeper really quickly.
With no option of going forwards or backward, Vicky decided her best option was to stand on a rock
submerged beneath the water, and for stability, she grabbed onto a large tree branch to keep her steady.
Vicky soon forgot about the safety of the horses
as she now realised that her own life was at serious risk.
It wasn't the height of the water so much, but the current was getting
a lot stronger, and like...with every hour that went past, it was just getting stronger and stronger.
That really was my biggest worry because that was what was taking me
and that was I was trying to hold onto the branch from,
was just the current, it was so strong.
The rain was continuing to pour down throughout the county.
With 10,000 motorists stranded and 5,000 homes and businesses flooded,
this really was becoming a major disaster.
Back at home, with Vicky missing, her mum Laura was getting extremely worried.
When we got home and Vicky was nowhere to be seen, I just couldn't think where she was.
I eventually got hold of her on the phone
and she was screaming down the phone, "I'm stuck under the Stony Bridge!"
I thought, "No-one's going to believe me that the water's this deep and the currents are this strong.
"They'll all just going to think I'm being silly."
So I got my phone out and I videoed it.
I was just going to video up the stream and then my phone died and I couldn't turn it back on.
It was really stupid.
I should've rung emergency services first before I did that,
but just the video seemed more important at the time!
Vicky may be laughing now, but at the time, she was in a desperate situation.
By 4pm, the rainfall was at its peak.
The water started rising rapidly and moving faster, and Vicky was in danger of being swept away.
Her mum and sister ran across the local school playing fields, which luckily weren't flooded
and, after a ten-minute journey, they finally arrived at the bridge.
We eventually got there and we were wading through water.
It was up to our waists and we saw her and she was stuck on the other side of a torrent of water,
which is just usually a footpath, hanging onto a tree.
The first thing I did was try to get across to her, so I tried to
get across the water over the gate, but it was just too strong.
The current was... It would've just swept anything.
There were bits of wood and rocks and things being thrown down there,
and you just couldn't have got across it.
Mum was desperately trying to get me. There was the five-bar gate that the water was crashing over
and Mum was trying to climb it, but it just wasn't happening. It just really wasn't happening.
She'd now been stranded for over an hour, and with the water reaching speeds of up to 2mph,
Vicky's mum realised her daughter was in a very dangerous situation and immediately called for help.
It took ages to get through to the police because obviously everybody
was trying to phone the police, and eventually I got through,
and it took about an hour for them to come out cos they were so busy, couldn't get anywhere.
-The roads were jammed up everywhere.
-Vicky was stranded in cold water of ten degrees centigrade.
She desperately needed help, but when the police finally arrived,
they were faced with an impossible task.
There was a wall leading up to the train tracks and they tried to climb up there and
walk down the wall the other side, and try and
lift me up onto the wall so I could walk up and walk down the train tracks,
but that couldn't happen because the brambles and the nettles were just too high.
They tried all sorts of things to get to her.
They took a goal post down to try and reach across to her,
they tried climbing down the railway embankment.
There were so many failed attempts, so many failed attempts,
but you could see that they were trying!
I just didn't know how we were going to get her out cos she couldn't move.
I was just really frightened.
Coming up on Living Dangerously...
As Vicky gets weaker struggling against the fast-moving water,
it's a battle for the emergency services to save her.
I started to get more worried that I wasn't going to be able to get out.
And how will the county recover from such freak flash flooding?
We're worried it's going to happen again.
It was really terrifying at the time.
Earlier on, a small community in Birmingham was left devastated
by Britain's worst tornado in over 70 years.
Local resident, Marilyn Lee, was visiting her son just one mile away when the tornado hit.
I got a telephone call from my younger daughter
who told me there'd been a tornado.
After hearing the news, she returned home to find her street virtually destroyed.
What was the atmosphere like out in the street between all the neighbours and the services?
Um, well, the atmosphere on the street was
total shock and confusion, um...
and the fact that everybody, really,
was desperate to come back and look in their houses,
but we weren't allowed in because they weren't sure
if they were safe enough.
The fire brigade crack team trained to deal with natural disasters
finally arrived on the scene in their specialist vehicles.
Led by Commander Sean Moore, the first step was to evacuate
hundreds of civilians whose lives were still in danger.
We got there about an hour and a half after
the tornado had actually gone through
but we had our first response crews,
they were actually on the ground within five minutes so, yeah, they were able to deal with
the first people that had actually started the evacuation of their particular houses.
We found buildings where they were structurally unstable but the occupants were very, very...
They didn't want to leave those buildings.
They were worried that, if they left, their houses may be looted.
We spent a lot of time trying to convince them that they needed to come out because,
certainly when you've got unstable chimney stacks, one more gust of wind
and they could've come through the roof and basically injured a lot more people.
Although the weather returned to a bright sunny day, the effects of
this terrifying attack were having a major impact on the community.
It took the specialist team three hours to get everyone out of their houses and clear the street
of stunned residents, horrified by the utter chaos caused by this unpredictable strike of nature.
We've had an awful lot of training in dealing with collapsed structures
and earthquakes overseas. So with the type of destruction that had gone on,
as in lots of houses had lost roofs,
there were buildings that were in an unstable state,
what we were asked to do was go round and check that there was nobody left
inside those buildings, and to make an assessment of buildings that
perhaps needed shoring up before we could send our teams in.
We also had access to specialist canine search dogs,
so on the day in question, we were actually able to bring dogs in
from mid and west Wales and from Merseyside.
There were there in a very short period of time so, again,
we sent the dogs into the buildings that had the biggest amount of damage
just to confirm that there were no people hiding under beds and so on and so forth.
With everyone evacuated, the specialist team established which houses were safe to enter,
and their residents were allowed to go back into their homes to pick up essential belongings.
Accompanied by her friend Mark, Marilyn was finally allowed to see the inside of her house.
Mark took along his video camera to capture this exceptional scene.
There was just branches of trees
and glass everywhere.
Had they come through the wall as well?
The damage had just come through the windows
and there was a very big branch through my downstairs window.
Marilyn was in just a state of shock.
She could see the roof was damaged, every window was smashed, her garden was devastated.
It had been a really bad, frightening experience.
What did you see the first time you walked in here?
Total destruction. There was a big branch through that window there,
and there was bits of branches and twigs and everything all over the floor, and broken glass as well.
Everything was just total mess, with debris from the trees and the glass everywhere.
-How did you feel when you came in and saw it for the first time?
-Um, just total shock.
-And what had happened upstairs?
Well, upstairs, from the back bedroom, a lot of the stuff from
-the back bedroom had been blown through into the front bedroom.
We actually had to get on the floor to find some bits of my jewellery and stuff like that as well.
And in the front bedroom, there's a little sort of cupboard wardrobe up there
with a great bit of glass that was just sticking out the door. But that was total...
You know, it was the same upstairs with bits of branches and twigs and glass everywhere.
The luck that you weren't here!
It could've done you some serious damage.
-Yes, yes, it was very lucky, really.
-How did you feel when you saw that piece of glass upstairs?
Oh, quite horrified, you know!
Oh, my gosh, if anybody had been standing there,
it would've done so much damage.
Thank goodness there wasn't.
Amazingly, there were no fatalities and only 19 people were injured.
Many homes and local businesses were wrecked, making it a costly clean-up operation.
Marilyn's road was amongst four others that experienced the full force of the tornado.
How was Ladypool Road affected?
Well, Ladypool Road, which isn't far from here,
was very badly affected as well, and there's a lot of restaurants
down Ladypool Road because it's part of the Balti Triangle,
so obviously all the businesses had to close down
and it was quite an unsafe area.
If you walked down the road to the various meetings that were being held,
you did have to walk in the middle of the road for quite a while.
And obviously all the restaurant owners, as I said before, and everybody else
lost some trade for quite a little while, really.
But there was a lot of damage down there as well.
With her house in ruins, Marilyn had no option but to take shelter with her family.
I stayed at my daughter Kate's house
-and I actually stayed there for a few months, actually.
-How was that?
But I then went and lived with my other daughter because my daughter Kate was about to have the baby,
so I then moved in with my other daughter.
And once the insurance people had come to see the house,
what did they tell you?
It took four months before they actually started any work.
We were all getting very anxious
that the work hadn't actually been started, but once it was,
um...everything did get going then OK.
Coming up... After the tornado destroyed her home, Marilyn tries to get her life back to normal.
I took a while to settle back in when we did get back.
Everybody said they didn't still feel right.
And I meet the head of Birmingham Council
to find out what prevention plans they have for the future.
I've spent a whole day there talking to residents, and we realise that we
got the communication place in the wrong part.
Earlier on, teenager Vicky Higgins set off on a mission
to save her sister's horses which were stranded in a flooded field
just half a mile from her home.
But halfway into her journey, Vicky ran into trouble.
What used to be a public footpath had now turned into a raging torrent of water.
Unable to move forwards or backwards, Vicky had no option but to take sanctuary on a rock.
I managed to get down and then I stood on a verge
and then I just held onto a tree.
The police arrived at the scene but were unable to rescue her,
so they called the local Fire and Rescue team for help.
There were so many failed attempts, so many failed attempts.
At 6pm, they finally arrived at the bridge.
When we arrived, the nearest we could get to the incident was probably quarter of a mile.
We then had to run through the flood water with our fire kit on,
carrying water rescue equipment -
the bags, throwing lines, lifejackets, that sort of thing -
in full fire kit, until we got to the torrent where this lady was trapped.
Gareth then took the decision that it was too dangerous for us to
cross the water. It was just too strong.
When the fire brigade came, that's when I started to notice
the water had gone from the bottom of my thigh to the middle of my thigh,
and then I started to lose feeling in my legs, which was scary cos I couldn't feel the rock I was on,
and obviously that was a thing of support for me, like to try and keep me there, but when I lost
that feeling initially, that's when I started to get even more worried that I wasn't going to be able to get out.
That was scary.
Vicky had now been stranded for three hours.
With the rain pouring down and the current getting stronger by the second,
the chance of her being swept away was becoming more of a terrifying reality.
The water obviously was very, very powerful.
We had an undercurrent that was constantly pushing at your legs, at your feet.
You could feel your feet being...
You know, they wanted to go from under you.
The rocks were rushing along as well and, you know,
you could've easily slipped or been pushed over by one of those.
Of course, you've all the other things that accompany a flood -
sewage and drainage water and all sorts of things are mixed in with
the water, so apart from the immediate danger of drowning,
you've also got the danger of possible infection.
I didn't know what we were going to do.
I didn't know how we were going to get Vicky out
cos it was still raining.
You know, the water was still rising slowly and
I just couldn't see how we were going to do it.
Vicky's mum and the firefighters were standing on the other side of the cascading water.
The rescue team needed to get to the other bank and closer to Vicky to get her to safety.
We had to find the best way up and over the other side, which involved us
fighting our way through the brambles and nettles
that had choked the railway embankment.
We climbed to the top, forcing our way through with our fire kit, using it as a barrier.
When we got to the top, we forced our way back down the embankment then
in the same fashion, carrying all our equipment, until we got close enough to start the rescue of the girl.
Being swept away by the water wasn't the only threat Vicky faced.
There are many other hidden dangers, as fast-moving water expert, Doug Kemp, knows only too well.
Water transmits heat away from the body 25 times faster than air,
and if you're static and the water's moving around you,
up to 250 times faster than air.
So hypothermia has quickly sort of removed your ability to function in a normal manner.
Your aspect changes as your brain senses that you're failing to move your arms and legs
in a logical manner, so your head comes up to avoid the water, your body aspect changes and down you go.
Vicky set out that day to save her horses from the floods,
but the rescue operation had now become all about her.
She'd now been standing in the water for three and a half hours.
Her physical health was deteriorating rapidly,
and with the water's temperature at just ten degrees centigrade,
the threat of hypothermia was becoming more real.
Fire-fighters were trying desperately to save Vicky, but the water
had now risen above her waist and
she was starting to lose her balance.
It was probably about half an hour they were there before they
walked all the way round and waded up the torrent towards her to try and get her.
After crossing the bridge, the rescue team were now on the same side of the water as Vicky.
On the ground, eight fire-fighters made a human chain into the water and upstream
against the terrifying current.
They got as close to her as they could but there was still a large gap,
and Vicky literally needed to take a huge leap of faith.
It was just getting her reassured and getting her confidence -
you know, "Come on, we're going to help you
"and we're going to get you out. Trust us,
"and we're going to trust you," and actually get her confidence to let go of the branch.
I had to sort of like step in the water and then almost like jump to the fire service.
And obviously it took a hell of a lot of coaxing from the fire brigade and my mum
to actually try and make me get off the first bit.
Getting her to come to us...
I mean, Chris was enticing her across, telling her, "Come on, you're safe,"
cos we'd got within about a yard of her, but she was hesitant about letting go that tree,
and I could understand why, cos the torrent of water would've washed her away.
Vicky finally took the plunge and jumped into the arms of the firemen.
When I finally got to the first fire brigade man and he was just like, "Brilliant we've got her!
"Let's pass her on," then I was getting passed along and I was just thinking,
"This is absolutely brilliant.
"I've finally got out." It was amazing. It was brilliant.
After a four-hour ordeal, Vicky was finally on safe ground.
I jumped through the fence and Mum was like,
"Oh, my God, I'm so happy you're safe!"
And that was when I was like, "Yes, I'm safe. It's brilliant."
When the fire brigade actually got to her,
I was so relieved to see Vicky walking up behind them and safe.
Concerned for her health, the paramedics took her straight
to Cheltenham General Hospital one and a half miles away.
When I went to the hospital, they gave me a cup of tea, some food.
They just... They just did some tests on me and they were just like, "Yeah, you're fine. You're absolutely fine."
I was like, "Brilliant! I haven't got hypothermia. That's brilliant."
While Vicky was safe, the rest of the county was still struggling.
Gloucester Fire and Rescue received 18,000 calls in just 12 hours,
and 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Thousands of lives were thrown into turmoil.
48,000 people were left without electricity for two days
and over half of Gloucestershire's homes were left without drinking water for over two weeks.
The estimated cost to repair the county's roads was £25 million,
and, even more devastating, the floods also took three lives that day.
If you become a victim of flash flooding, there are some precautions you can take.
The key advice when you're faced with a flood,
I would go with the stay indoors, keep yourself warm and safe.
If you've got a problem, 999, get somebody professional
to come and sort you out that's wearing all the right equipment.
What you're not going to do is go outside
and try and swim through it, drive your car through it.
Much better just to stay put, wait for the local authorities to come and get you.
Remarkably, Vicky managed to escape this terrible ordeal without serious injury.
The horses also survived, and although their field was flooded,
they managed to stay on higher ground.
It's now two years on, and Vicky has come back to meet the men who saved her life.
I didn't realise the time had gone so quickly.
My mum told me what the time was when I got out and I was like,
"Oh my God, I've been in there for so long!"
It was lucky I had my waterproofs on, otherwise I'd have been even colder.
They were all incredibly brave and the one who said he fell over when he got to the top of the tracks
and the other one kicked him and said, "We've got a girl to rescue!"
They were all incredibly brave.
'I'm really grateful to all of them for everything that they've done.'
Thank you. Thank you!
Earlier on, in July 2005, Britain's worst tornado
in over 70 years hit an area just south of Birmingham city centre.
No way! Look at that!
No way! There's a tornado!
Look at it, man, it's everywhere!
At the time, 67-year-old Marilyn Lee was visiting her son one mile away
but she returned home to find that her house had been devastated.
Did you end up seeing your house in the news and the papers?
Yes, it was in the papers and on the news, and I think in nearly every photograph of it,
my house was in the newspapers.
How did you feel, seeing those images?
Um...well, you would be... You would be a bit distant from it in a way.
-"Oh, yes, that's my house there," you know?
-Yes, yes, really strange.
No-one affected by the tornado will ever forget what happened that day.
The images of devastation will stay with people for the rest of their lives.
Has anything positive come out of this experience?
Well, I think everybody's back to normal now, but at the time it was...
You know, everybody was supporting each other cos you'd all been through the same situation.
Um...and also, there were several meetings that kept happening all the time, so everybody knew
what was going on and support from the council,
and also what improvements that we wanted in the area anyway.
Four years on and Marilyn has finally settled back in her home
that's been rebuilt and shows no trace of the calamity the befell it.
The fear of this happening again is something that the people of Birmingham
have learned to live with, but the psychological effects will stay with Marilyn forever.
Do you think you're over it now or do you still carry some of the trauma from it?
Um...yes, I am over it now, very much so. It took a while.
It was really strange as well that everybody was dying to get back
into their homes, and it was eight months we were actually out...
but it took a while to settle back in when we did get back.
Everybody said they didn't still feel right. It was really strange, really.
But, no, everything's just back to normal now
and you don't really think about it.
And that feeling when you moved back in - was it because you felt vulnerable
or was it maybe that it felt like a different house?
It took a while to settle back.
It was almost like moving into a new house, and yet it didn't seem like
a new house anyway, but the feeling you would get when you've just moved.
So it's really strange.
A thousand properties were damaged in the disaster and the cost of the reparations came to £40 million.
After three months, the Balti Triangle declared they were back in business.
How did you deal with this huge shock you'd been through over those months?
Well, everybody said I seemed all right, but inside,
I wasn't really.
Um...and I also think, when my daughter Kate had the baby,
I always said she was my anti-depressant!
Because I did... You know, I...
Well, I came over here every day.
It's, um...very strange, really,
because you're sort of still drawn back to the area.
I'd see the progress going on, but there was so much to sort out,
it was unbelievable.
I've come to meet Stephen Hughes, the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council,
to find out what they've learned from this experience.
Stephen, I'm sure you must've learnt many lessons from that emergency.
What were they and how have you acted upon them?
Yeah, there were lots of lessons to learn.
I think the key one was about getting communication right.
People who are affected by events like this
really want to know what's happening.
We had the people going in and fixing all the structures
and making everything safe,
but they wanted to know about their property, when they could go back,
what the sequence of events was going to be.
You can't do too much communication.
-Are there any practical steps that people can take in an emergency like this?
-It's simple things.
Have a first-aid kit, have some bottled water, have emergency numbers on your mobile phone,
that kind of thing, so that you can react to the situation and get help if you need it,
or look after yourself in the immediate aftermath.
So that's the kind of advice that we give out and try and encourage people to take up.
Well, impossible to plan for a tornado.
It was an extraordinary event, really.
The worst natural disaster that has hit Birmingham and we were really fortunate
that we were able to deal with the situation as well as we did.
-And I have to say, Stephen, it was also your first day on the job, wasn't it?
First day as Acting Chief Executive was when the tornado hit Birmingham.
From that, I suppose, it couldn't really have got much worse, could it?
-Great first day!
-Thanks very much.
-Thank you, Stephen.
Marilyn has come to terms with the horrific events of 2005
and is once again able to relax and enjoy a peaceful retirement.
Oh, this is smashing, isn't it?
-Is this all new, Marilyn?
-Yes, this has all been redone now because the garden was totally destroyed as well,
and the fences down and the shed destroyed, and the bench and everything.
How do you feel about this, then?
I'm very happy with the way it is now. It's very nice.
-So what's new here? What was this like before?
-Well, that was just...
I had a bed that went down to there and that's still the same as it was,
apart from having the edging on the side there.
And this was plain, so I had new tiles there, and the raised bed
and everything, so it does in fact look a lot nicer than it did before.
All the plants are new. The insurance company cleared the garden.
The perfect spot for a nice chilled glass of white wine, I would say.
It is indeed, yes, cos it's a nice sun trap and it's very nice, yes.
Thankfully, all these people have survived the effects of freak weather.
Join us next time for more amazing true stories on Living Dangerously.
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