FOUR holidaymakers suffered minor injuries when tonnes of earth cascaded from a cliff face into a Shanklin hotel ballroom during a function 20 years ago.

On March 21, 2001, a 50-metre section of cliff behind the Shanklin Beach Hotel and the neighbouring Redcliffe Hotel and apartments collapsed in heavy rain.

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Residents spoke of their “absolute terror” when the landslide came crashing through a wall at around 9.30pm as they took part in a dance and quiz.

Around 160 holidaymakers and residents were evacuated from the scene after the movement of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of earth. vegetation and debris that also damaged or wrecked up to a dozen parked cars.

A second smaller fall then occurred behind the nearby Esplanade Gardens car park as Isle of Wight Council officers arrived to assess the scene

Isle of Wight County Press:

The County Press front page story.

The incident made national news and was the latest jolt to the Island’s tourism fortunes — already devastated by the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak.

One guest at the Shanklin Beach Hotel, Philip Nelson, a retired publican from Bradford, West Yorkshire, managed to avoid being trapped by sliding out of his false leg.

Mr Nelson, 62, had lost his right leg eight years previously due to diabetes, but was quite relieved to have been able to use it to escape after the wall of the hotel's ballroom caved in trapping him under a table.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Holidaymaker Philip Nelson and his wife, Margaret. 

"I've never stripped in front of a ballroom full of people before, but I can't get the leg through my trousers, so they had to come off too." he said.

"The noise was like a wagon coming through the wall.

"The services and hoteliers have all done an excellent job, and Sean, our coach driver was a real hero.

"He put us before himself by running across the room to help us — my wife Margaret was really terrified."

It was not only holidaymakers who were affected by the cliff fall. Shelley Smith, a resident of the adjoining Redcliffe flats, was watching television with her young daughter, Sasha, and boyfriend Mark Dempsey when she heard a hell of a lot of noise which did not stop.

She said: "I looked out of my window. Sparks were flying from cables. I saw the cars in my patio and all the trees hanging down. It was panic really. Mark went outside and his car had been trashed. I tried to phone 999 but I could not because my phone had been cut off."

Peter Johnson said he was sitting in his lounge when he heard an almighty crash. He said: "I thought it was thunder. I looked out of my window and saw my car coming towards me."

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