Cape Town -
It chased down the hill, peeling corrugated iron roofs from tinder frames and turning them into flying guillotines.
For many residents, the “mini tornado” that tore through the small West Coast town of Darling at 4.30am on Wednesday sounded like an enormous truck or industrial vacuum cleaner.
For Venette McDillon, woken by the sound of cracking glass and bending sheets of iron, it sounded like the metallic crunch of a car crash.
“My heart was pounding so hard,” said the 24-year-old, who almost fell out of bed when the storm swept through the town.
Standing in the courtyard of her rented home on Mount Pleasant Street, underneath the buckled remains of the courtyard’s roof, McDillon said she was still shaking.
“I rolled out of bed and ran to the other side of my house, away from the tornado.
“My windows sounded like they were about to shatter and outside I heard everything being ripped apart,” she said.
“I was worried that my car would be lifted away, that’s how strong the wind sounded.
“As it turned out, a big piece of metal narrowly missed hitting it.”
McDillon’s home is part of a bigger building, largely made up of a warehouse which was the worst-hit part of the property.
The strong winds had lifted the gate to the warehouse, breaking it in half and flinging both parts down the road.
The building’s co-owner, Richard Mills, said he had retrieved one of the halves almost two blocks from where it had been picked up in the gale.
“There’s also bits of my roof everywhere,” Mills said, pointing to a long sheet of corrugated iron wrapped around a lamppost 10m from his warehouse.
“Luckily it was early and no one was on the street. Imagine someone getting hit by something like that.”
Paul Duckett said he had been woken up to the “machine-gun fire” as the roof of his house was ripped off.
“The strangest part is how this thing just seemed to follow the road exactly,” Duckett said.
The “mini tornado” was the talk of the town, with townsfolk on every corner discussing the damage.
There were stories about a resident who had to retrieve his chimney from outside the grocery store, and another who said an uprooted tree had landed in his lounge.
All along Mount Pleasant Street, the storm’s damage was visible – from uprooted trees to splintered wooden frames waiting to be collected.
Most of the residents could not believe the damage the storm had wrought in just 20 seconds.
“It can only be global warming,” said Herman Oelsner.
The German, who has been a resident in the town for more than 25 years and runs a wind farm nearby, was convinced the storm was a tornado, something he had never before seen on the West Coast.
The local municipality said it was assessing the damage and could not confirm whether the howling winds had been a tornado.
According to meteorologist Rian Smit it was unlikely that this was the case. While storms such as Wednesday’s were not unusual at this time of the year, the forecaster, who works for the SA Weather Service, preferred to call what happened in Darling a “localised thunderstorm with strong to galeforce winds and possible heavy rain”.
A tornado is described as a violent rotating column of air that extends from the thunderstorm to the ground.
But, for the residents of Darling, what happened Wednesday will always be the town’s own “mini tornado”. – Additional reporting by Chelsea Geach