Australia residents share tales of heartbreak and lucky escapes after freak tornadoes, wreaking tens of millions of dollars worth of damage.
The 250km/h squalls carved a random swath of destruction, levelling some homes while leaving others in neighboring streets unscathed, and flinging caravans at camping grounds through the air.
Towns worst hit were Yarrawonga, Mulwala, Bundalong, Koonoomoo, Barooga and Cobram. Rutherglen and Euroa, further south, were also battered.
At least 25 people were admitted to hospital after being hit by flying debris or trapped in vehicles thrown about by the wind. Five were rushed to Melbourne.
The State Government said yesterday there would be emergency relief grants for those caught in Thursday night’s tornadoes.
Denison County Caravan Park was completly destroyed after a tornado ripped through Mulwala, NSW. Picture: Simon Dallinger
Locals struggled to describe their terror at being trapped inside motor homes and caravans that were flung through the air as though they were toys.
At Denison County Caravan Park in Mulwala, north of Yarrawonga, little of the 160 cabins and caravans remained to be salvaged.
Danny Janosevic was inside his caravan at Kyffins Reserve when it became airborne, hurtled 25 metres, then slammed to earth, shattering into rubble.
Cut and bruised after crawling from the wreckage, dried blood caked to his face, he said:
Resident Danny Janosevic, with his neighbour’s aptly named dog Lucky, at Denison County Caravan Park. Picture: Scott Chris
“I am lucky to be alive. The caravan lifted up in the air and smashed into tiny pieces on the ground.
“People were screaming, ‘Are you OK?’. But it was over in less than a minute.
“Everything is wrecked – the fridge, the television. It’s all gone,” he said.
At Euroa, a service station roof was torn off.
Residents of Mulwala have witnessed a tornado during a huge storm.
Moira Shire Mayor Brian Keenan, whose municipality covers Bundalong, said he had seen nothing like the devastation in his four decades with the State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority.
“You would think an atom bomb went off,” he said.
More than 1000 calls were made to the SES, which set up relief centres at The Big Strawberry at Koonoomoo and at Bundalong Hall.
Houses destroyed in Bundalong. Picture: Simon Dallinger
In Bundalong, 80 residents were without power after lines were brought down across roads.
Michael and Maree Bourke said a tree speared through their roof and pierced their bed. “If my hubby had’ve been in bed it would have been a nasty story,” Ms Bourke said.
“I thought the house was going to fall on top of us.
“It is a miracle nobody was killed.”
Rob Turner assesses the damage after his caravan was blown 40 meters at Denison County Caravan Park. Picture: Scott Chris
Forty locals turned up at the Bundalong Hall relief centre.
Seven said their houses were so badly damaged they were uninhabitable. Fourteen reported moderate damage and 19 minor damage.
In Koonoomoo, 16 houses were badly damaged.
Red Cross volunteer Narda Walters said locals had banded together.
A tree crashed through the roof of Michael and Maree Bourke’s home. Picture: Simon Dallinger
“The best thing to come from this disaster is how people have come together,” she said.
“They have offered food and accommodation, anything they can do to help.”
Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells visited victims in the devastated towns yesterday.
Personal hardship grants were available for immediate needs, he said.
A home destroyed in Rutherglen. Picture: Simon Dallinger
Up to $1200 per household, and up to $480 per adult or $240 per child, was available for emergency shelter, food, clothing, or personal items.
For those left homeless and without sufficient insurance, up to $30,000 was available for clean-up, emergency accommodation, repairs, rebuilding, and replacing damaged contents.
Mr Wells said more federal and state grants were likely after damage assessments.
– with Jessica Evans