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Storm rips through Geelong, tearing roofs off homes in Waurn Ponds

Wednesday May 20, 2020 - 17:07 EST
ABC image
Four flatmates were sleeping when their home was struck by the storm, the roof collapsed an hour later. - ABC

A family has described how they ran from their home as glass rained inside from smashed windows, after a freak storm hit Geelong.

The western suburbs of the city suffered severe winds and rain in the early hours of Wednesday morning, leaving some people with uninhabitable homes and many with significant roof damage.

The Sullivan-Boutkan family were woken by the sound of tiles being pulled off their roof.

Their neighbour's evaporative cooler came off the roof and straight through their living room window.

They ran outside in the chaos and joined many other neighbours who had come out onto the street amid the storm.

"We didn't know what had happened," Nicole Sullivan said.

"It seemed to last forever, but would have only been a couple of minutes."

State Emergency Service (SES) Victoria chief officer Tim Wiebusch said the storm had struck almost in a line, with the damage concentrated in Waurn Ponds and Mount Duneed.

Mr Wiebusch said crews had responded to 177 requests for help, including up to 60 homes with significant roof damage.

Calls were received predominantly from people in Geelong's west but also from residents in Stawell and Ballarat.

"Crews have been brought in from as far as Gisborne, Castlemaine, Benalla and Bendigo and Melbourne," he said.

The SES has set up an information point in Ironbank Street, Waurn Ponds for residents to go to for assistance.

Mr Wiebusch said more than 100 roofs had been temporarily repaired.

Mr Trist said crews had responded to "significant roof damage", mainly in Waurn Ponds and Mount Duneed.

"There are four houses that are unhabitable so the residents have had to find alternative accommodation," Mr Trist said.

The uninhabitable homes had "extensive roof and window damage".

He said the storm "sounded like a bit of a tornado", and heavy rain soaked the inside of people's homes.

Strong winds also lifted trampolines from backyards, with one ending up on the fence of a neighbour across the road.

Waurn Ponds resident Chris told ABC Radio Melbourne he was woken up by "very, very loud wind at 1:11am".

"[We] went outside and found half of a 6-metre-tall tree had flown 30 metres down the road over the top of a parked car," he said.

"Then we went for a walk up the street … there was a fence down, it knocked a verandah pole into a window.

"There was a missing trampoline and four houses with quite large holes in the roof."

Marissa Vrbovac from Mount Duneed also woke up to the storm.

She told the ABC she heard what sounded "like a shotgun or some explosion" about 2:00am.

"I opened my shutters and saw neighbours looking out the windows like I was and there were bins everywhere and debris, it was an enormous gust of wind coming through, it was so scary," she said.

"My neighbour was chasing a trampoline [down the road], there were people scared, it was very frightening."

She said her backyard had been struck and the wind had destroyed a $2,000 outdoor oven.

"That's all smashed up … but it's only stuff," she said.

Ms Vrbovac said one of her neighbours had suffered about $100,000 worth of damage.

"He just moved in, his daughter was screaming, he didn't know where to hide," she said.

"But we're thankful we're alive, that's the main thing."

Weather bureau investigates storm

Bureau of Meteorology state manager Andrew Tupper said a strong, cold front moved across Victoria on Tuesday, creating the severe thunderstorms.

He said three severe weather specialists were assessing damage patterns and evaluating what kind of weather system caused the damage.

Bureau senior forecaster Christie Johnson told the ABC it was not clear if the storm damage was a tornado.

"A tornado needs rotating winds and frontal cloud," she said.

"At this stage, we are still investigating if the storm had rotating winds or if it was just a thunderstorm downburst."

Thunderstorm downbursts occur when strong winds descend quickly from a thunderstorm and hit a small area, where they quickly spread out and dissipate.

Ms Johnson said the storm skipped the bureau's weather stations so the strength of winds in western Geelong was unknown.

"We don't have any in the western suburbs of Geelong so the strongest winds we recorded overnight were 78 kilometres per hour in Avalon, but it's a no-brainer that the winds were stronger than that in Geelong," she said.

"We classify a severe storm as one that produces at least 90kph winds, and we had nearly 100kph in Ballarat.

"There's a good chance we had at least 100kph in Geelong — we can't confirm that but it's most likely

There were also no rain gauges in western Geelong, she said, so rainfall totals were not recorded for the area.

But up to 20 millimetres fell in surrounding areas in a short period of time, she said.

The highest rainfall recorded was 26mm in Springvale.

Second front expected

Ms Johnson said a second front would come through Melbourne on Wednesday night, with some rainfall "close to midnight and through the early hours of tomorrow".

"The front doesn't look as likely to produce storms, so it's more of a rain band," she said.

"We are expecting 10 to 20mm in metro-Melbourne."

She said Wednesday morning's storm was still moving through the state and hit Bairnsdale about 8:45am.


© ABC 2020

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