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'Wicked' tornado rips through Penola

Sunday August 1, 2010 - 14:42 EST
ABC image
Tornado tears through: Penola Bowling Club was severely damaged - ABC
ABC image
Strong winds tore through the Penola Hardware store. - ABC

The South Australian Government has committed $250,000 to help with the clean-up effort after a tornado ripped through the small town of Penola in the state's south-east.

The tornado tore through buildings, destroying four and damaging 60 more, when it struck at 6:00pm (ACST) yesterday.

The State Emergency Service has estimated the size of the tornado's path as 50 metres wide and three kilometres long.

An emergency official estimates the damage bill could top several million dollars.

Locals say they heard what sounded like a freight truck just moments before a funnel touched down in the east of the town and tore through the main street.

They say the tornado cut power, blew out walls and sent corrugated iron flying hundreds of metres into the air.

The town's bowling club is lying flat on its side and the entire front section of a hardware store has been blown out.

Electricity was restored four hours later and there were no reports of injuries.

Premier Mike Rann will visit the town tomorrow. He says more money could be provided if it is needed.

"What I've told the mayor of the area is that we will do everything we can to help Penola rebuild," Mr Rann said.

"I've also spoken to the Catholic Church and I've also offered financial assistance there in terms of rebuilding the schoolhouse - Mary MacKillop's schoolhouse that's also been damaged."

Local resident Lindsay Broad says the tornado was one of the most horrific things he had ever seen.

"Something you had never heard in your whole entire life," he said.

"It was just wicked. I stood outside and I could see corrugated iron as far as you could see in the sky."

Laura Price says she has never seen anything so bad in her life.

"My mum owns the lolly shop and we were looking outside our kitchen window and we were really scared," she said.

"The whole main street is all trashed."

Country Fire Service incident control officer Fred Stent says it was a long night.

"It's a pretty daunting challenge and we're doing the best we can but it's not going to be easy," he said.

"We've got a hardware shop and the whole roof's collapsed and that's probably one of our worst damages that we've got.

"[There are] lots of other damages to all the other stores and so forth.

"The interpretive centre has most of its roof blown off."

Emergency crews from Adelaide are travelling to the town to help with the clean-up.

Emergency Services spokeswoman Tara Rischmueller says it has been hard to estimate the cost of the damage done by the tornado.

"At this stage it is thought the damage bill will be put at several million dollars," she said.

The tornado came just days before the Australian ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer, inspects Penola's preparations for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop as Australia's first saint.

Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson says he is saddened by the damage caused to Penola.

In a statement, Archbishop Wilson says he is trying to find out the extent of the damage to buildings associated with the canonisation celebrations in October.

- ABC

© ABC 2010

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