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Roofs torn off homes as storm batters northern NSW

Friday February 22, 2013 - 23:48 EDT
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The heavy surf at Coffs Harbour didn't drive everyone away. - ABC

A severe storm battered the north coast of New South Wales on Friday, damaging homes, causing localised flooding and leaving thousands without power.

The low pressure system is slowly tracking down the coast, dumping heavy rain on regions that are already sodden from previous rainfall.

During the day wind gusts reached 126 kilometres an hour at Byron Head, while roofs were lifted from house and business at Ballina.

At Urunga, south of Coffs Harbour, the SES is urging people to evacuate to higher ground, with rivers expected to swell on Friday night.

Becky Gollings, from the SES, says many catchments areas are now saturated.

"There's really not much leeway when we get more rain coming through those areas, so we are quite concerned with the expected heavy rain," she said.

"We could see falls, localised falls, of up to 300 millimetres in some parts, which could lead to some significant flooding.

"It really is a big area that we're watching at the moment.

"We've got a flood watch in place stretching from the Queensland border, right down to the Hunter Valley so it's quite a large area that we're looking at so we certainly are on standby ready to go helping any residents that need any help.

"But we also will have volunteers out helping those people in Ballina as well with the wind damage that's been suffered there this afternoon."

On Friday flooding and fallen trees closed the Pacific Highway between Woolgoolga and Woodburn, and many local roads were impassable.

Trains were suspended between Hornsby and Gosford because of a large rock on the track at Wondabyne, north of Brooklyn.

The storm cell knocked out power to about 32,000 homes and businesses in the region on Friday.

At Ballina, high winds caused structural damage to many buildings, as well as toppled electricity poles and trees, and the SES says it has received 150 calls for help in the town.

Debris is also blocking drains in the town, causing localised flooding.

Ballina Marine Rescue's John Donohue says the system arrived with 110-kilometre-per-hour winds.

"We're experiencing very strong winds, probably the strongest I've experienced in my 15 years here in this communications centre, and we are also experiencing very big seas of 11 metres out there in the last hour," he said.

Earlier today, some water lovers were drawn to the rough seas though.

Bodyboarders Eli Tree and Yaniv Shaul drove to Coffs Harbour from Bellingen to surf near the southern breakwall.

"When we first got out there was three older guys and they left and we had it to ourselves for about half an hour and then they just slowly started all coming in," one said.

Coffs Harbour's famous banana industry is worried by the high winds with the ground so moist.

"A lot of them will just topple out at the roots, because the ground's so wet," grower Gavin Slattery said.

Across the border in Queensland beaches on the Gold Coast are closed for a fourth day as the weather system continues to whip up dangerous surf.


© ABC 2013

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