A FIVE-STOREY block of flats collapsed last night just minutes after residents had left.

They watched in horror as part of Kendal House, in Chapel Park Road, St Leonards, suddenly crumbled into a mountain of bricks and dust at around 9pm.

Almost all the 25 people living in the flats had managed to get their belongings out after being warned about the building's safety during the day by the council.

Emergency services, including the British Red Cross, helped re-house 12 of them. The others spent the night with relatives or friends.

Environmental services officers told them to leave just hours earlier because they feared the building could be dangerous.

At least one re sident's possessions were thought to have been buried beneath the rubble and one man ran from the building as it fell to the ground.

Police, fire and ambulance crews rushed to the scene. No one was injured but an elderly woman was treated for shock.

There were several reports of missing pets and firefighters searched the building. Eventually all were accounted for and the all-clear was given at 11.40pm.

Insp Andy Carter said: "The residents were very fortunate they were not injured and many were grateful to see their pets alive and well."

Samantha Kemp, 21, who works at a rest home in Hastings, paid £700 to move into a ground floor flat with her boyfriend Damien Harkins, 27, and daughter Sophie, seven, on Monday.

Damien, who works at Top Shop, in the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, said: "A crack appeared in our bathroom from floor to ceiling during the day. It was obvious something was going to go wrong.

"Samantha phoned me at work and told me we had to get everything out and her parents were giving us a hand when it happened.

"We were never told the building was in this kind of state. Everyone's sitting room at that side of the flat has gone.

"I was standing outside the building and shouted for everyone to get out when it started to collapse. That's when I saw the other man run out."

Damien's brother Paul, 23, lives opposite him in another of the ground floor flats.

He has been there for nearly four years with his common law wife Louise Pettifer, 21, and their three children Connor, three, Karys, one, and Kaitlin, three months.

Although his flat was not badly damaged, his pet white Alsatian Snowy and the family's possessions were inside when the building collapsed.

Paul, a planning officer, said: "I was helping move my brother's belongings when it happened. I can see my things in the flat from the road and I'm just relieved it hasn't all been destroyed.

"Firefighters will get the dog out when they know they can go into the building.

"When I got home from work in the evening Louise said we'd been told to get out and a notice had been pinned to our door warning us the building wasn't safe.

"I don't know how old the building was but I think it used to be a girls' school.

"I think a lady in a basement flat had been on to the environmental services to check the building. It's a good job she did because people could easily have been killed."

The drama was seen by Samantha's parents, Susan and Peter, from Clarence Road, Hastings.

Susan said: "We just stood there looking at the building then saw chunks of it falling away. It made a series of cracking sounds then just collapsed."

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