IT IS a scene you associate with the American Midwest or a Hollywood movie – people running for safety as a tornado wreaks havoc.

But this was the frightening drama that unfolded on a Hampshire industrial estate when a mini-twister touched down.

Witnesses described how the skies went dark and they saw a swirling funnel which sucked up objects in its path and flung debris in all directions.

It caused £4,000 of damage to cars in just 30 seconds and left bits of roofing in trees.

One witness said she believed if it had struck in a heavily populated area it would have killed someone.

Those involved were given little warning with only a few minutes of heavy rain before the twister struck, taking parts of roof from businesses in Duncan Road, Park Gate, and smashing them into cars.

John Harris, who owns Botley Motor Body Repairs, described it as like the film Twister as he saw bits of roof and tree branches swirling around in the funnel just 30 yards away.

“It was a mini-tornado dancing on a roof,” said the 50-year-old from Bursledon. “It was like a vacuum cleaner, a powerful thing just sucking. You could see the roof going upwards and it was ripping things up one at a time. It was more like something exploded inside the building.”

As debris started flying John took shelter behind a wall.

“Even the cars were lifting off their suspensions,” he said. “It was definitely too dangerous [to be outside].”

Secretary of the business, Jo Woodford, ran for the nearest building, fearing she could be swept up as the portable office she was in started shaking.

“It was really quick, it was so frightening,” said the mother-of-three, of McCarthur Crescent, Bitterne.

“It lifted the roof 20ft in the air and it was spinning. It sounded like explosions had gone off. It would have lifted a person, without doubt.

“If it had been half a mile down the road it would have killed someone.”

Then as soon as it had come, at around 11am on Monday, it was gone and sunshine returned.

Five cars were damaged, one with a severe dent and another with a smashed window.

But, strangely, many businesses and residents remained unaware of the phenomenon metres away.

John believes he is one of only three people that actually saw the twister up close.

“It doesn’t happen here,” he said. “You don’t get to see something like that so to have seen it makes me feel lucky.”

What causes tornadoes? TORNADOES are violent rotating columns of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.

They form when warm, moist air meets cool, dry air, creating instability in the atmosphere.

A change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed creates an invisible horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere.

Rising air within the updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical.

Tornadoes, also known as twisters, can appear as a traditional funnel shape, or in a slender rope-like form.

Weather experts say they are relatively common in the UK, particularly in the south, but they are not on the scale of the massive tornadoes in the US, where wind speeds can reach up to 300mph.