A mini-tornado hit a housing estate in Brighton, leaving a trail of damage in its wake.

Strong winds lifted bricks, snapped trees in two and sucked clothes off a washing line.

Parts of an office roof were torn off and a van was speared by flying debris.

The force of the winds that twisted through Whitehawk, Brighton, even smashed the rear window of a van.

Residents said the twister was at least 60ft high and seemed to come out of nowhere.

Parents living in Whitehawk Road feared for the safety of their children playing outside who could have been hit by flying debris.

Angela Hemsley said she could not reach her children, 11-year-old Darren and Aaron Kipling, eight, when the wind hit on Saturday afternoon.

She said: "I saw it all. It was very frightening. All of a sudden it became very cold and the clouds were very dark.

"A gust of wind got up and the kids who were outside playing couldn't move. I couldn't get down to them and they couldn't get to me. It was absolutely terrifying.

"If that was a little twister, I hope we'll never get a bigger one."

She described the tornado as green-grey, looking like "a bit of paper twirling through the sky".

Neighbour Andy Harris, 40, said: "We had been sitting outside but went indoors and that's when it all happened."

Mr Harris, who went back outside again to investigate the noises he had heard, found the rear window of his employer's van had caved in.

Keepsafe Self Storage in Freshfield Industrial Estate was hit at about 2.15pm.

Assistant manager Margaret Smith said: "Alarms went off, the offices were shaking and doors were banging all round the building. Afterwards, everything went silent and the birds didn't come back for about an hour. It was very strange.

"There was a van in the yard and a piece of metal from our roof flew off and pierced the roof of the van. The driver was still in there."

The driver of the Howard Jones Removals van was unhurt but shocked.

The twister was at its strongest in Whitehawk Road but there was also damage at the Freshfield Industrial Estate. Other Whitehawk residents did not even know a tornado had struck.

Mr Harris' partner, Tracey Perrett, 33, said: "I phoned my sister who only lives up the road and it did not hit her at all."

Ivy Gillam, 85, was watching television in her bedroom when the twister started.

She said: "I have never seen anything like it in my life. It could have lifted children up.

"The noise really startled me. My window was only a little bit open but leaves were blown inside everywhere."

Her son-in-law, Michael James, said the wind had snapped a tree in half 'like a matchstick' and his washing was sucked away.

During the weekend, twisters hit other parts of the country, including Canary Wharf in London.

A spokesman for the Met Office said: "Minor whirlwinds and mini-tornadoes are surprisingly frequent in the UK but it is not often they touch down in built-up areas.

"The main driving force at the moment is we have some relatively cold air over the country and with the strong heat of the sunshine and warm seas it is making the atmosphere unstable."

He said winds would have had to be travelling at hundreds of miles an hour to shatter the glass in the van.

He believes it was more likely the window had been shattered by an object picked up by the wind and flung at it.