TERRIFIED Portlanders feared they had been hit by a nuclear attack amid scenes of chaos.

Residents barricaded themselves in their homes and made desperate phone calls for help during the scare.

Elderly and vulnerable people in the Fortuneswell area feared ‘bombs were going to drop’ when ‘alarmist’ information booklets were pushed through their letterboxes after dark.

And they were furious when they found out the panic had been caused by an emergency exercise.

They have accused organisers of the Nuclear Accident Emergency Plan exercise on Wednesday evening of ‘scare-mongering.’ The exercise, led by Dorset County Council, the Royal Navy, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the borough council and other nuclear officials, involved a leaflet drop to 1,200 residents living within 1.5km of Portland Port.

The situation was exacerbated by Wessex Water officials making loud hailer announcements about water being turned off at the same time and radios being used by officials.

John Morris said: “I went outside when I heard the loudhailer announcement. I was handed this leaflet about nuclear leaks by a bloke who said nothing and there were several people talking on radios. It looked serious and it’s no wonder people panicked. The organisers dealt with this in an utterly incompetent manner.”

Vivien Hawkins, 78, of Artist Row, said: “It was frightening.

“I heard this awful noise, opened my front door but couldn’t understand what they were saying.

“After that a booklet came telling me to shut all the windows and douse fires. It was frightening, did they want me to freeze?

“I called my son who works at Winfrith, and he wondered if a submarine was leaking in Portland Port.”

One elderly man said: “I came home from work and found my wife in tears, she’s distraught.

“All I know is there’s a radiation emergency on Portland Port. I’ve had to give my wife a sleeping tablet to help with the shock.

“They’ve given us a whole list of things to do if an emergency happened, like do not leave the area and put out or damp down fires.

“My wife’s reading all this stuff and she’s scared. She’s going to have nightmares tonight.”

Louise Armstrong, 45, of King Street, said: “It was very strange, there was no prior warning.

“It would’ve been nice to have a letter before these leaflets.”

Ashley Reed, 42, said: “The impact of these leaflets coming through our letterboxes is the real crux of the anxiety generated.

“The first impression when you pick it up is this is because of a radiation leak and these were delivered at night and after dark.

“It’s not what you expect and it’s just the sheer absurdity of it – as if these alarmist booklets could bring any comfort.”

A King Street resident added: “When I got the leaflet I thought ‘When’s the bomb going to drop?’”

Fortuneswell resident Geoff Buckley, 73, a former senior commissioner engineer with Vickers, said: “If people don’t know what’s going on it scares them.

“Instead of using pamphlets, they should spend a bit of time going around to visit people.”

Winifred Groves, 81, of Fortuneswell said: “It’s disgusting. It was very scary.”

The exercise was a pre-cursor to a much larger exercise on Tuesday, April 27, to validate the Portland Port off-site reactor emergency plan and the site-specific aspects of the Royal Navy’s emergency plan.