Popular Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School pupil Bethany Freeman, 17, killed when tree crushes caravan in Hever as storm sweeps across Kent
Tragic Bethany Freeman was killed when a tree crushed her caravan
The mother of a 17-year-old girl killed when a tree fell on her caravan in Kent's devastating storm has today spoken of her grief.
Tess Peirce told how she and her family are "absolutely devastated" by the death of Bethany Freeman yesterday.
She comforted her daughter in her last moments after the mobile home she was sleeping in was flattened in Hever, near Edenbridge.
Bethany was crushed to death when the 40ft tree fell on the caravan as Kent was battered by the worst storm in a decade.
Neighbours told how they used chainsaws to try to free the grammar schoolgirl before emergency services arrived.
In a statement released through Kent Police today, Tess said: "We are all absolutely devastated at the loss of my daughter.
"I would like to thank the emergency services for their tremendous efforts in attempting to save her."
The tragedy came as strong winds brought down more than 100 trees and power cables in the county, left several vehicles crushed, debris strewn across roads and areas were flooded.
UK Power Networks this morning said as many as 4,000 homes in the county are still without power. A spokesman said staff have been working round the clock to restore services.
Rail services were returning to normal today, but Southeastern urged passengers to check before travelling because debris yet to be cleared could cause delays and cancellations.
Another caravan on the site in Hever where a teenager was killed in storms. Picture: Ben Cusack / SWNS.com
Bethany's death yesterday captured the human tragedy of the storm, with more than 5,000 people joining a Facebook group in her honour.
She was asleep in a static caravan, in Lydens Lane, when the tree came down in hurricane-force conditions at just before 7.20am.
Popular Bethany, who attended Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School, has been described as "universally respected" by her head teacher.
The sixth former - known as Beth - was a popular sportswoman who represented the county and local clubs in hockey, cricket and netball.
Neighbours told how the family were living in caravans while a more substantial home was built on the small farm.
The caravan crushed by a tree in Hever. Picture: Ben Cusack / SWNS.com
Sevenoaks District Council said the family was granted permission in 2010 and building work began in 2012, but the project was understood not to have been finished.
Earlier, a hero neighbour told how he rushed to the girl's aid with his chainsaw.
The man, who asked not to be named, said: "I ran down to see what had happened and rushed back home to get my chainsaw.
"It's ridiculous that police don't carry chainsaws in rural areas any more, especially when they knew there was going to be a storm.
"We tried, but there wasn't anything we could do. It's such a tragedy. They were a really lovely family, this whole community will be badly affected for a while.
"We don't know them very well, but that didn't stop me doing whatever I could to try to save her."
A pink mattress, believed to be where the tragic teen was sleeping, is lying under the huge tree - believed to be a leylandii.
Broken and cut branches are piled next to an outhouse garage, which were discarded during the rescue attempt.
Another neighbour said: "My husband went down to help, but there was nothing they could do.
"They were such a nice family, only been in the area about two years, I think. The tree just toppled in the wind and smashed into the caravan.
"It was really blowing last night, I thought we were going to lose a few trees too."
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A Facebook page in hour of teenager Bethany Freeman
Bethany's head teacher Linda Wybar said: "Beth was well-known by staff and girls, universally respected as an individual who always had time for others and gave a huge amount to the school, generously committing her energy and enthusiasm, whatever the need.
"Beth was a dedicated and truly outstanding sportswoman, whose unparalleled role in TWGGS sports will truly be sorely missed.
"Beth was well-known by staff and girls, universally respected as an individual who always had time for others and gave a huge amount to the school..." - head teacher Linda Wybar
"She represented the county and local clubs in hockey, cricket and netball.
"She was instrumental as captain in the TWGGS' 1st XI hockey team's recent success in the Kent County Tournament, resulting in the team's progression to the regional finals.
"Beth was also a very talented and committed member of the 1st VII Netball Team.
"Beth was an extremely well respected Sixth Former who assisted the PE department with a wide range of tasks.
She added: "Most noticeably, Beth was very popular with younger girls as she unselfishly gave up so much of her time to help with coaching in hockey, cricket, netball and athletics.
"Through her hard work and enthusiasm for sport she will never be forgotten. Her close friends and teachers, as well as the wider school community, will miss her beyond measure, and the school will do all we can to support girls as they struggle to come to terms with Beth's untimely death.
"All our thoughts and love are with Beth's parents and brothers at this saddest of times."
Police tape at the spot where a teenager was killed when a tree crushed a caravan. Picture: Ben Cusack/SWNS.com
Among tributes posted on Facebook page RIP Bethany Freeman, friend Izzie Tol said: "Words cant describe how much you'll be missed."
And Jodi Arnold said: "What a truly tragic way to die, caused by something that can't be controlled.
"You were clearly extremely loved and cared for by all I can tell this is going to affect the entire community for a long time."
Emergency services - including three fire engines, police and ambulance crews - were called to the scene at about 7.20am.
"We have to make sure the emergency services can act as fast as they can to help people..." - Prime Minister David Cameron
Crews from Kent Fire and Rescue Service used a saw to free the teenager from the wreckage of the flattened caravan.
She was treated by paramedics from South East Coast Ambulance Service, but pronounced dead at the scene.
As 70mph winds battered Kent, Prime Minister David Cameron said the loss of life is "hugely regrettable".
He added: "We have to make sure the emergency services can act as fast as they can to help people."
A Sevenoaks District Council spokesman said: "Our thoughts go out to the family of Bethany Freeman at this very difficult time.
"In August 2010 planning permission was granted to convert an existing barn into a mix of residential, office and tourist accommodation. Construction work began in June 2012 and we understand it is on going."
The storm caused powerful waves at Dover seafront. Picture: Tony Flashman
A fallen tree in Kitchener Road in Chattenden, Medway
A van left crushed by a fallen tree in Maidstone
Severe weather conditions coincided with the morning rush hour yesterday and caused heavy disruption for Southeastern passengers - with no services until after 9am.
Some high-speed services began operating between Ashford and St Pancras and there was a shuttle service between Ramsgate and Deal.
Meanwhile, the Port of Dover, the Sheppey Crossing and QE II Bridge were closed until about 10.30am because of strong winds.
Congestion at the Dartford Crossing was made worse after a serious crash between two lorries at the toll booths at about 11am - with traffic stretching back to before the Swanley interchange.
Video: A round-up of widespread storm damage across Kent
The Met Office said wind speeds of 70mph were recorded at Manston.
The most severe weather was expected to hit Kent between 8am and 10am, with coastal areas most badly affected.
People on Dover seafront had to dodge huge waves several feet high - as cross-Channel passengers endured long delays.
However, motorists and rail passengers were expected to continue to suffer heavy disruption later into the day.
Strong gusts have caused widespread structural damage, leading to power cuts in several areas of the county.
Manston Airport cancelled its Amsterdam flight this morning and all ferry operators - My Ferry Link, P&O and DFDS Seaways - suspended services until mid-morning.
An uprooted tree in Ames Road, Swanscombe
A road to Upnor village in Medway is blocked by trees
Paul Andrew tries to clear a fallen tree from Military Road in Dover
Kent Police earlier reissued their warning to drivers to take extra care on the roads, with trees falling on roads including the M2 between J7 and J6 and on the A28 in Bethersden.
The force this morning said dozens of other sites across the county have been suffering from fallen trees or debris.
It led to a string of road closures and diversions as emergency workers battled hazardous conditions.
Several areas across Kent were also put on flood alert - meaning flooding is possible - including parts of the Rivers Stour, Darent and Medway.
Emergency workers clear a fallen tree blocking the A2 near Ospringe
A van negotiates a flooded underpass in Pattenden Lane, Marden
Tree down in Northridge Road, Gravesend
Meanwhile, a motorcyclist has been trapped under a fallen tree in Four Elms Road, Edenbridge. The extent of their injuries is unclear.
Among the most serious incidents Kent Fire and Rescue Service was called to overnight was when a tree fell on a car in Faversham.
The occupants had escaped by the time crews arrived in Ospringe Road at about 6.20am, but one man was taken to hospital.
A fallen tree in Northridge Road, Gravesend, was left perilously close to smashing the windows of a row of terraced houses.
A tree is uprooted in Park Avenue, Northfleet. Picture: @Jimbocrouch
Fallen tree in Albany Park, Sittingbourne
Fallen tree across the road at Eastwell
Wildwood Discovery Park, in Herne Common, near Herne Bay, closed this morning while staff check animals are safe.
One tree came down in the wolf enclosure last night, but caused no damage and keepers managed to get all the wolves to safety.
Fire crews were called to The Tram Road in Folkestone at 1.30pm on Sunday to remove a dangerous chimney. The house chimney had become unsafe due to the high winds.
Lamp post blown down in Monkton Street, in Monkton, Thanet
A van drives around a branch on a road in Hunton
A fallen tree in Godinton Park, near Ashford, brings down a lamp post. Picture: John Emms
A family told how they watched in horror as a giant fire tree was uprooted in strong gales and smashed down on their home in Minster, Thanet.
Villagers Tony and Carol Webb saw the 60ft tree sway and rock until its weight ripped it from their garden this morning.
"Suddenly I could see the earth being lifted around the trees..." - Tony Webb
Tony said: "I was watching the storm from the bedroom window. Suddenly I could see the earth being lifted around the trees. The fence panels in the garden started moving.
"A few seconds later the huge tree started to fall. My heart started pounding and I feared it would fall on us.
"Thankfully,it fell on the other side and tank God no one was hurt."
Neighbour Steph Thompson said: "I watched it from our bedroom window. As the gales really intensified just around 7am we saw it starting to rock and for a moment we really thought it could hit the houses.
"Luckily it fell the other way. It was a huge crash and it tore all the roots out of the ground.
It was very scary and we are all terrifically relived that no-one was in its path when it fell."
Tony Webb with a fir tree that uprooted and smashed down in his garden in Minster, Thanet
Some commuters went to Maidstone West station after Southeastern announced an 8.18am service would run to Tonbridge.
But they were later met with a notice over the station tannoy saying there was no service on because of fallen trees at Cuxton and at Beltring.
One man - Elvy Manum'ebe arrived at 6.55am and was still hanging around - going nowhere - at 8am.
Fellow commuter Daniel Edmundson said: "Work has been pretty good about all the disruption. They know that people will struggle to get in, but I wouldn't have come here unless I'd seen the notice about the Tonbridge service.
"Last Monday, London Bridge was closed because of over-running engineering work, so we've been hit again. You can just about cope with the struggling service, but not when there's slightly bad weather."
Frustrated passengers at Maidstone West station
And John Marven said: "Southeastern knows there is a storm coming and it just seems there is a complete lack of planning or co-ordination. It could have arranged replacement bus services, or linked in with Arriva, but instead everyone is just told to stay at home.
"I probably won't get to work in London until around 3pm today. I don't see how they can say it runs a good service. I don't think the storm has been that bad."
An advertising board also hit a train when it overturned on the platform at Faversham station.
An advertising board hits a train at Faversham station
Earlier, Southeastern announced its plans to delay Monday services days ahead of the storm - explaining Network Rail needed to ensure all routes were clear.
Network Rail managing director Robin Gisby said: "Passengers will, I hope, understand that their safety and the safety of our workforce has to be the rail industry’s number one priority during such severe weather.
"We will be monitoring conditions on the ground throughout the night and into the morning, but we simply cannot allow trains to run until the storm has passed and we have been able to make sure that the railway is safe and free of damage or obstructions.
"Once the storm has passed we will have a better idea of the work needed to get the railway back up and running safely and I assure passengers that all available resources will be put towards that effort."
The Highways Agency announced on Sunday night that the QEII bridge would close in the early hours of Monday morning.
The tunnels are expected to remain open, operating in a contraflow to allow traffic to travel in both directions. However, severe delays are expected as a result.
A car makes a splash getting through flooded Willesborough Road, near the Julie Rose stadium
A tree falls close to shops in Gravesend town centre
Branches block a path in Gleaming Wood Drive, Lordswood
Both reactors to Dungeness B nuclear power station on Romney Marsh automatically shut
down because of the storm.
National Grid staff are now working to restore mainstream power after both reactors closed down at 7.30am after wind-blown debris landed on incoming power lines.
EDF Energy confirms both units shut down safely and the site's own diesel generators are providing supplies to the site to allow essential safety systems to operate.
The station is now liaising with the National Grid for the return of the power supply.
Martin Pearson, station director at Dungeness B, said: "This is a scenario we are well prepared for and we quickly responded calmly and professionally to the loss of supply.
"The reactors are safely shutdown and National Grid staff are now working to restore the supply. Once that is done we’ll bring both units back on line."
The plant powers 1.5 million homes but none were cut off because any replacement supplies needed could be provided through the National Grid.
A fallen tree landed on Lawrence Hopkins's car in Chartham
A large fallen tree blocks a road in Ashford. Picture: Kate Jarvis
A fallen tree in Ashford. Picture: @fionakeogh1
Kent Fire and Rescue Service has issued fresh advice on staying safe in extreme weather.
A spokesman said: "Residents are being reminded that during a storm, the emergency services will be very busy so only call for immediate assistance if there is a risk to life or serious property or environmental damage."
If severe weather leads to flooding in certain areas, motorists are being warned not to attempt to drive through flooded roads or fords.
Stuart Skilton, head of community safety at KFRS, said: "This can be extremely dangerous as the water is often deeper than it looks and may be moving quite fast.
"Your vehicle may be swept away or become stranded. Do not travel in heavy rain storms unless absolutely necessary."
Mr Skilton added: "Following a flood in your home, make sure all electrical circuits are fully dried out and checked by an electrical engineer before switching back on.
"Please look after neighbours who may be vulnerable. Keep an eye on weather reports on local television or radio news channels."
It could be some of the most extreme weather since the Great Storm of 1987
The Met Office issued an amber warning, meaning "be prepared", for Kent while contingency plans are already under way to try to minimise disruption.
The storm has been named St Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, whose feast day is today - and could see the most extreme weather since the Great Storm of 1987.
The Met Office says the public should be prepared for the risk of falling trees as well as damage to buildings and other structures, bringing disruption to transport and power supplies.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists has urged drivers to postpone journeys unless absolutely necessary if the storm does hit.
Spokesman Peter Rodger offered the following advice:
- Strong winds are not constant, they are usually gusty, so ensure you hold the steering wheel firmly.
- Overtaking high-sided vehicles or driving past buildings can result in a sudden gust from the side as you clear.
- Give cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses more room than usual. They get blown around by side winds easily. Even pedestrians can be blown about.
The Highways Agency echoed the call for drivers to think twice before venturing out.
Crisis management coordinator Martin Hobbs said: "Be aware of sudden gusts of wind, and give high-sided vehicles, caravans, motorbikes and bicycles plenty of space."
Crews spanning highways workers, coastguard, fire, NHS, water companies and those in charge of countryside access are on standby to cope with any flooding or damage.
Tankers will also be on standby to clear areas that have flooded.
- Toby Howe, acting head of highway operations, on the storms
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But Toby Howe, acting head of highways operations at KCC, said the time of year said the danger of falling trees and debris was greater.
He said: "Trees, unfortunately, are still full of leaves, and the ground is very wet. Trees can come down anywhere - on a main road, on a minor road - so you can't plan for any particular area."
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