FEROCIOUS winds are continuing to batter Britain today, causing damage and disruption - and the North East has been warned to brace itself for snow.
Yesterday, town centre shops were cordoned off and a family were forced to flee their home as gale-force winds battered South Tyneside.
Emergency services were called out to a raft of incidents as winds of up to 60mph howled through the borough.
Sections of the roof at the Waterloo Square retail complex in South Shields – which houses national chains BHS, Next, River Island and Debenhams – began to come loose under the force of the gusts.
Police cordoned off the area shortly after 11am with the fire service joining them at the scene to ensure the structure was safe.
‘Dangerous structure’ signs were put in place to warn the public, while shoppers were stopped from entering the retail complex.
The centre re-opened to the public at 1.50pm.
Tony Chapman, Watch Manager at South Shields Fire Station, said crews were at the site for more than two hours.
He said: “Some of the panels on the roof became loose and became dangerous to the public. A crew from South Shields and one from Gateshead turned out.
“We used a aerial ladder platform to get on the roof and remove loose panels, and sandbags to weigh down the other panels until structural engineers from the building’s management company can come on site.”
Overnight, the winds also forced a family of three out of their home in Selkirk Street, Jarrow, after the gable end of the property collapsed.
Strong winds led to tons of brickwork falling from the gable end – flattening the roof of an outhouse.
Crews from South Shields and Hebburn – along with a specialist structural collapse vehicle from Hebburn – were called out at 4am yesterday.
The occupants, a husband-and-wife believed to be in their 50s and their 21-year-old son, got out of the property prior to the fire crews’ arrival.
A neighbour said she feared her own house had suffered damage when she was woken by a “loud bang”.
The resident, who asked not to be named, said: “I just heard a loud bang. At first, you think it is your own house.
“I looked out of the window and saw the damage and the flashing lights of the fire engines. It is awful for the family.
“They were out in the street in their pyjamas and they packed some bags and left pretty soon after. The winds were so strong that bricks were still falling when the firefighters arrived.”
Officers from Hebburn also attended Ashbourne Road in Jarrow after roofing felt appeared to be coming free because of the wind.
Crews managed to remove the affected part of the roof safely.
At 3am, police were called after a tree was blown over by winds on Temple Park Road, South Shields.
It was removed by workers from South Tyneside Council.
The council’s tree team spent the day carrying out inspections on trees which were damaged by the winds in streets, parks and cemeteries.
Police were also called to a wall which had toppled in Arnold Street, Boldon Colliery, at 4.30am, with council workers again drafted in to assist.
Police also alerted the council to a tree being blown over in a garden in Devon Road, Hebburn, at 6.03am.
Repair teams from South Tyneside Homes have also responded to incidents of damaged fencing on local housing estates.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “We will attend wherever there is a report of a fallen tree or branch obstructing or preventing safe use of the highway, regardless of whether the tree is on privately owned or council property.
“We would advise people o take care over the weekend and report any incidents to our customer contact centre on 427 7000.
“We would also encourage residents to take sensible precautions, such as securing loose garden furniture.”
High winds also caused transport misery.
Rail services were hit, leading Northern Rail to halt its 6.12am service between Hexham and Middlesbrough, which calls at Sunderland and Seaham, after an obstruction on the line.
Metro trains between South Hylton and Pelaw were also hit after the line was blocked shortly before 7am yesterday, but were back up and running by 10.45am with delays.
The A1(M) was closed between Carrville and Chester-le-Street from about 8am, when a shed being transported on the back of a lorry on the northbound carriageway was blown off and onto the southbound route.
Traffic heading in both directions was diverted as the road was closed off and cleared, with the route shut off until early afternoon.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service was also called to Sea Road in Fulwell, after advertising hoardings blew down at 5am, while cars were left damaged in Ryhope Road after a trampoline was blown into the street, just after 7am.
About a dozen trees were felled by gusts including one in St Luke’s Road, in Ford Estate.
National Rail warned of fresh travel misery today, with train services throughout Scotland into the north of England widely disrupted due to “poor weather conditions”.
Weather experts said today’s gales will be accompanied by snow, with yellow “be prepared” weather alerts in place for the North East.
Met Office forecaster Alex Burkill said: “As we go through Saturday morning a band of squally rain will move south eastwards, and that’s going to bring brighter but much colder conditions behind it.
“Some showers are likely to be heavy, and may well fall as sleet or snow, particularly in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England.
“Some of the showers could bring significant accumulations, particularly over higher ground.
“We could widely see 2cm to 4cm (up to 1.5ins) of snow, and perhaps 8cm (just over 3ins) on the highest ground.
“That could cause major disruption to travel, so there are yellow warnings in place for affected areas.”