DINERS told how a romantic Valentines meal at a sea front restaurant turned into a major evacuation drama that saw them rescued by the military.

Guests and staff were rescued as 80 mile an hour winds blew rocks at the restaurant smashing windows.

A tidal surge then flooded the restaurant during the storm which brought chaos across the south.

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An estimate of the damage had been put at more than £100,000.

That is not including all the cars wrecked and the row of beach huts - costing £20,000 each - which have been destroyed.

Jane Hopkins, 47, of New Milton, was in the Marine restaurant in Milford on Sea enjoying a Valentine’s Day meal with partner Greg Pepper, 64, pictured below.

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The drama unfolded around 9pm when shingle started hitting the window and then the downstairs of the restaurant flooded as 20ft high waves hit the upstairs windows.

Jane said: "We could hear stones hitting the window upstairs.

""Most people were quite jolly, one or two had had a few drinks.


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"It's a first to be evacuated. I felt totally confident - the army guys coast guard and officers overseeing it were brilliant.

"It just made you feel safe.

"They formed a human chain to get us out.

"I didn't feel concerned at all.

"They stood in all stood in a line you walk us out, we had to climb over a wall and onto the back of the big army truck.”

She told how the army and other emergency services formed a human chain to protect people as they came out of the restaurant.

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She said the first army truck they were in hit something and was so damaged they had to be transferred to a different one, but both had their windscreens smashed.

They were taken to the Lymington Recreation Centre and got a taxi home.

Their car that was left at the restaurant is likely to be a write off.

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"All the cars have moved and have clearly floated around," said Jane.

Waitress Sammi Smith below, told how at first they had tried to keep a normal service going upstairs as downstairs became flooded but that soon became impossible.

She told how guests were evacuated first then staff.

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"It was scary especially being responsible for so many people and knowing the devastation and knowing everyone's cars were a write off.

"I want to thank the emergency services and the army, they were brilliant."

Owner Richard Thompson, picture below with wife Susan, said there were 36 diners and around 10 staff, but some people had left early.

He said he had been downstairs at the bar when the glass smashed and water flooded in.

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As windows started smashing customers were evacuated to an apartment at the back of the building and then out.

He told how this became more difficult when a power cut meant getting out in the dark, but said customers and staff had been amazing.

Richard said they had had no warnings and if they had realised how bad it was going to be they would not have opened.

"At first we didn't realise how bad it was going to get, people continued with their meals."

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He said when water started to come in they realised they could not stay there.

He said he could not put a value on how much damage had been caused, but said he hoped that he could get it back to where it was.

Ross smith, 73, who lives and runs the Bed and breakfast on the site of the restaurant told how her home had become a haven for diners who were given drinks as they waited for the army to get them out.

One firefighter who was meant to be enjoying a meal at a restaurant told how he later had to help evacuate it.

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He also told how the rescuers became the rescued as the army were called in to get both firefighters and diners out.

Vicky Tongeman, 45, was sat at a window table with husband Brian.

She said: "It was very dark outside but every few seconds there was a loud whooshing noise from the waves hitting the windows.

"Then we started to hear pebbles hitting the glass and two of the windows cracked and that's when we were all moved back.

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"The staff gave us plastic bags to put on our feet and when we went downstairs we had to wade through the water that was up to our shins.

"All the downstairs windows had been shattered and the noise from the sea was incredible."

Dave Kichley, 52, was enjoying a romantic meal with wife Sarah when the windows smashed.

He said: "You could hear wave after wave hitting the window and actually see the panes of glass moving before they were shattered by the stones.

"By that stage everybody had been moved towards the back of the restaurant."

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Ryan Smith, 21, was the duty manager at The Marine last night.

He said: "It was horrific, absolutely terrifying.

"The night was all going very well and all of a sudden we heard stones flying at the window and then there was a loud crash from downstairs.

"I went to the top of the stairs and could see water up to knee height gushing into the downstairs area.

"We then heard the windows cracking upstairs and we started moving people away from the windows.

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"Then two of the windows went and the water started coming into the restaurant. There was so much glass that it went halfway across the room.

"When we had to evacuate the building we had to form a human chain down the stairs and waded through the water to get to the main door.

"A few people didn't want to leave because they thought they would be safer upstairs.

"A few woman were carried out and we had to face the back wall to shield ourselves from the water and shingle flying in."

Crew manager Robin Bates, from Lymington fire station had been booked for a meal at the Marine restaurant but had cancel after he was called in to work.

After helping with sandbagging in the area he got the call to go to the restaurant at around 9.30pm.

Conditions were so bad that the fire engines could not get to the restaurant and one was damaged in the attempt.

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Crew manager Bates said: "I made a decision we needed to get to check the people in the restaurant.

"All the ground floor windows had gone so I got all the people upstairs. That's when the upstairs windows went.

“We were having a tidal surge and water was coming three to four feet deep.

"We were prepared to bed down for the night if we couldn't be rescued. It was too dangerous. We could only be rescued by the military. TheStorm police said it was too difficult for their teams."