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Asbestos fears for town hit by freak storm

Monday February 25, 2013 - 20:45 EDT

People living in parts of Kiama on the New South Wales south coast could be moved from their homes as authorities try to deal with asbestos contamination after a freak storm.

Residents haveas the squall, described by some as a tornado, cut a path of destruction through the seaside town early on Sunday morning.

At least three homes were destroyed and 170 damaged, with a significant amount of asbestos cement sheeting among the debris.

The cancer-causing material is dangerous when small fibres become airborne.

Speaking at a press conference, State Emergency Service (SES) deputy commissioner Tara McCarthy says it is not yet known how many homes will be evacuated.

"Whilst the asbestos was wet, it wasn't a concern," she said.

"Obviously we're seeing now that conditions are becoming sunny and it's drying out.

"We're working with Fire and Rescue, and on their advice and they've cordoned off a number of areas and they're looking at implementing local evacuations."

The SES says there are still more than 60 jobs in Kiama, Jamberoo and surrounding areas to be completed.

'Put through a mix-master'



New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell is touring the area and says the damage is "extraordinary".

"Flying over and seeing the roof of the fire station missing, seeing from the air mature trees that look as though they've been through a mix-master and seeing blue tarpaulins along a defined corridor, this is the sort of event that you associate with a tornado going through parts of America," he said.

"Not what we normally see along our coastline."

Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler says it is amazing nobody was killed.

"I was absolutely amazed at the ferocity of the event itself," he said.

"Looking at it from the air as the Premier has said, the trees that you see in the forested areas, you can quite clearly see the path as it tore out all the trees, amazing ferocity.

"We had doors pulled off balconies at our nursing home...I have been amazed no-one was seriously hurt or killed.

"It's astounding really, we had one incident where the ambulance was required for a lady who had some injury to her eye from flying glass."

The Premier says funding for the recovery effort is unlocked when a natural disaster declaration is made.

"We will work as hard as we can to get the assessment for Kiama and surrounding areas made to unlock that assistance," he said.

"Yes, there will be resources stretched because of the damage up and down the coast, and the fact that the latest forecast I have seen suggests that rain may recur at some stage this week in volume.

"So we will struggle, but like everything else, we will get through."

Sydney damage

Meanwhile, WorkCover says its inspectors are checking asbestos is being properly removed from the Malabar RSL Club, in Sydney's south-east, after a separate freak gust of wind from the weekend storms.

Randwick Council is overseeing the clean-up which saw sheets of asbestos from the club's roof being blown onto neighbouring areas.

Workcover's Peter Dunphy says there is asbestos damage in other buildings besides the RSL club.

"Certainly with the RSL club there was certainly more fibro material with the large roof," he said.

"But in most of the houses that were damaged there may be small amounts of asbestos material and that's been assessed at the moment and the removalists are doing the work."

Randwick Mayor Tony Bowen says the council has cleaned up the public areas surrounding the club and is now looking at private property.

"I think if anyone has any concern whatsoever about some substance being deposited in their private residence in that area in that area of Malabar and Chifley then they should contact the council," he said.

"We're dealing with asbestos - safety is obviously paramount."


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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