Savage 90mph winds battered the Fylde coast as buildings were wrecked and chaos was brought to the roads.
Bricks were torn from Blackpool hotels while one of the resort’s most fashionable seafront restaurants was devastated by the gales.
Homes suffered power cuts, town centre roads had to be closed and trains and flights out of Blackpool were cancelled as the winds escalated amid last night’s severe “red” weather warning.
The storms shattered the sea-facing windows of The Beach House restaurant, situated next to Festival House on the sea side of the tram tracks, causing devastation inside.
Manager Hagop Tchobanian said: “It’s just horrendous. The building is absolutely in bits. We’ve been left wide open with the rain pouring in. We’re dreading high tide.”
Mr Tchobanian’s staff were inside the building when the windows blew in.
“It’s just so scary,” he said.
“I can’t get my head around it. The windows are hanging off and there are electricity wires everywhere.”
The weather battered the restaurant at around 6pm, and the emergency services spent two hours clearing the scene and trying to make it safe.
Mr Tchobanian said it was not known when the Beach House would re-open for business.
Sheraton Lodge also bore the brunt as a wall was ripped away and window frames were damaged at the venue on Shaftsbury Avenue, off Queen’s Promenade, North Shore.
Blackpool resident Maria O’Callaghan, who lives along the road from the Lodge – which is part of the Sheraton Hotel – said she heard “a bang” as the wall collapsed.
“I was terrified,” she said.
“I looked over and could just see the bricks and window frames outside where they had fallen. It looked like part of the hotel wall had just collapsed into the alleyway.
“Even after it happened the wind kept getting stronger and stronger.”
Mrs O’Callaghan, 61, said firefighters attended the scene and cordoned off the alleyway where broken masonry from the hotel had fallen.
She added: “When I saw it I just thought anything could happen – there were bits of guttering that could have blown off and hit someone.
“Even our windows were shaking, it was horrible.
“We’re in a quite vulnerable position here, facing the Prom. Nothing like this has ever happened before, but it’s left me feeling insecure.”
The Sheraton’s general manager Tara McPhee said: “I’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve had a structural engineer out and it’s superficial, thankfully. There must have been some loose bricks on the top floor and they’ve come away with the windows.
“It looks bad, but we just have to rebuild that bit of wall.”
A number of fallen trees were reported, including one which crashed through the top of the nursery at Blackpool Cricket Club at Stanley Park.
The winds also sparked transport chaos, with Yeadon Way closed after part of the roof collapsed at the Total petrol station.
Manager Raja Zubeir said: “Luckily there were no cars in at the time. There was a sheet of metal hanging off the roof, and it was really dangerous so the fire service came and took it off. The police closed the road.”
Council bosses also closed Bank Hey Street after reports of debris flying from the top of buildings.
Road closures were also in place on the Promenade, Lytham Road and Dickson Road in Blackpool and Amounderness Way in Thornton between West Drive and Morrisons because of a fallen tree.
Trams also stopped running during the strongest winds while Blackpool Transport bosses were forced to suspend bus services because of the hazardous conditions.
Town hall officials said they responded to incidents as soon as possible and – at the height of the storms between 6pm and 9pm – advised all residents to stay indoors.
Firefighters were called more than 300 times about incidents around Lancashire.
By 10pm they had attending 90 incidents in the county – many along the Fylde coast.
Among them, firefighters at Blackpool’s Forest Gate went to a building on Dickson Road after slates were blown off a roof.
A spokesman said: “We were literally going all over the place simply due to the amount of calls.
“Once we’d finished at one job we were being called to another.”
Windows were blown out of the Oriental Thai restaurant on Dickson Road, while the bus stop outside was pictured by one Gazette reader after it toppled over.
A tree collapsed and blocked Beverley Road South, St Annes, another came down and blocked Midgeland Road, South Shore forcing police to close the road.
The wind also ripped cladding off the outside of Lytham coastguard station.
And homes and businesses in Garstang, Kirkham and St Michaels were left without power.
Trains and flights were cancelled as the weather began to play havoc across the region.
Fylde coast commuters travelling north on the West Coast Main Line from Preston were warned to expect significant delays, and the route to Penrith was closed between 7pm and 9pm.
The strong gales forced Blackpool Airport to cancel two flights, one coming in from the Isle of Man at 4.40pm and another flying to Belfast.
The Met Office placed Blackpool under a “red weather warning” between from 4pm until 9pm yesterday. The last time the resort was given such a serious warning was in January last year.
Yesterday’s gusts reached “storm force” strength.
A Met Office spokesman said: “It’s rare to see winds this strong in Blackpool, hence our issue of a red warning for the area.
“We reserve this for occasions where there really can be a need for the general public to take action to protect life and property.”
UK battered by savage gales
An elderly man was killed as winds of more than 100mph lashed Britain and heavy rain brought more flood misery for parts of the country.
The Met Office yesterday issued a “red” weather warning for exceptionally strong winds in western parts of Wales and north-western parts of England, while the Thames was predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in some places.
Police said a man in his 70s died in a suspected electrocution while attempting to move a tree which brought down power cables near Chippenham, Wiltshire.
Meanwhile, gale force winds of up to 100mph battered parts of the North West, bringing chaos to the region.
The M6, M60 and M62 were all closed due to overturned vehicles.
There M6 was shut for sometime between Junctions 33 (Lancaster) and 32 (Broughton) due to two lorries blowing over.
The incident was caught on the Highways Agency’s CCTV cameras.