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Lightning terrifies pupils as school hit

PUBLISHED: 07:49 11 June 2002 | UPDATED: 12:04 03 March 2010

YOUNG pupils were left terrified as their school was hit by several lightning strikes, starting fires in the building and blowing electrical appliances.

YOUNG pupils were left terrified as their school was hit by several lightning strikes, starting fires in the building and blowing electrical appliances.

About 150 pupils aged from three months to 13 were at Cherry Trees School in Risby, near Bury St Edmunds, when the frightening thunderstorm erupted.

Worried teachers were forced to evacuate the building as the lightning struck at about 4pm yesterday, sending power surging through electricity cables, blasting appliances off walls and igniting small fires.

School headteacher Wendy Compson said she had been teaching at the time of the lightning strikes and had only seconds earlier been trying to reassure children worried by the storm.

She added the noise of the strikes and the "explosions" caused as the power surged through cables, taking the most direct route to earth through a variety of appliances, had been a frightening experience.

"I've never heard anything like it – it was very, very loud. Some of the little ones were frightened, but the older ones were really good and were ready with hands to hold," said Mrs Compson.

"The evacuation went exactly to plan. We practise regularly, so that was no problem, and the main thing is that no-one was hurt."

Mrs Compson said the administration section of the school, which is also the nursery area for the youngest children, had suffered the brunt of the damage, with her office one of the worst affected.

Smoke and fire damage will cost thousands of pounds to repair, but there appeared to be no structural damage to the school. It was due to be open today, but the nursery will be closed for until tomorrow.

Sub Officer Steve Mableson, of Bury St Edmunds Fire Station, praised school staff for the swift evacuation and added: "They did exactly the right thing – they got out, stayed out and called us."

Sub Officer Mableson said it was relatively common for a number of lightning strikes to hit in the same area.

He added cables around the roofs of the various buildings attracted the lightning, which then surged towards earth through appliances in classrooms and offices.

"It's quite common for lightning to strike cables and the electricity surge is obviously much bigger than appliances in the building can handle and so they blow," said Sub Officer Mableson.

Firefighters tackle the blaze in Mrs Compson's office, which broke out after a heater exploded, setting fire to curtains. They were still at the scene last night looking for any remaining hotspots and damping down.

Electricity network operator 24 Seven reported one other power problem due to the lightning strikes, at a small transformer in Bardwell, near Ixworth.

Dave Wood, duty manager, said: "We had one other incident due to the lightning strike and that was being dealt with by a change in transformer. We would like to apologise to our customers for any inconvenience and we did have staff out as soon as we could."

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