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Floods and 'mini tornadoes' batter NSW

A major storm hits the greater Sydney region on Saturday night with strong wind and rain likely to last for the rest of the week.

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SPECIALIST crews continued to vacuum asbestos from grass, roads and backyards in Sydney's east on Sunday night, after storm damage closed several streets in Malabar. Sheets of asbestos flew into the backyards of homes when winds of up to 100km/h ripped off part of the Malabar RSL's roof.

Fire and Rescue NSW Hazmat crews cleaned contaminated debris from the roads and police blocked off Ireton, Victoria and Prince Edward streets and Bilga Crescent for up to 24 hours.

It was a ''once a year'' kind of storm that battered the state in the early hours of Sunday, the Bureau of Meteorology's forecaster Chris Webb said.

Damage to a waterfront property at Neutral Bay. Click for more photos

Wild weather batters state

Damage to a waterfront property at Neutral Bay. Photo: Ben Rushton

  • Damage to a waterfront property at Neutral Bay.
  • Kirribilli resident Ian Kiernan.
  • Wind damage at Chifley Public School.
  • Chifley resident Harry Tran, pictured in one of the rooms in his house that lost its roof.
  • Waiting for taxis outside the Beresford Hotel, Sydney.
  • Wild weather on Sydney beaches has exposed the pier footings from the old Coogee pier, only the second time in 30 years.
  • View of storm damage in Willoughby Street, Kirribilli.
  • The roof of the Sydney Flying Squadron at Milsons Point is badly damaged
  • The clean-up under way in Kempsey.

In just a few hours, a band of very heavy rainfall and damaging winds made its way from the central coast, swept across the city, and continued on its way down south. Barely a suburb was left untouched. It caused flash flooding, uprooted trees and damaged cars, businesses and more than 200 homes.

Some suburbs recorded decade-high rainfall. Others were hit by wind gusts of more than 100km/h. A State Emergency Service spokeswoman described ''mini tornadoes'' in the city's south-west. About 17,000 people lost power across Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter, Ausgrid said.

While it appeared to strike from nowhere, the storm had been brewing for about a week, becoming increasingly aggressive as it crept down from tropical Queensland. It peaked just as it hit Sydney. At 12.21am, Sydney Harbour recorded a gust of 135km/h.

SES workers at Malabar wear asbestos protection suits after roof damage to the RSL club as a result of heavy winds at 12.20 am this morning...Smh newsPhotos Ben RushtonSunday feb 24 2013

Malabar ... SES workers needed protective suits. Photo: Ben Rushton

About that time, the storm stretched from the eastern suburbs to Homebush. By 1.30am it hovered over Helensburgh and 90 minutes later it drenched the south coast. At Albion Park, 18 millimetres of rain fell in 10 minutes. Nowra's 24-hour total of 94 millimetres was a five-year high.

The Blue Mountains were also soaked, with Blackheath recording its heaviest daily total in at least 17 years with 173 millimetres. Further west, Lithgow exceeded its monthly average in just 24 hours.

By morning, the storm was nearing the Victorian border. But in NSW, the SES's phones were ringing non-stop. By yesterday afternoon they had received almost 5000 calls for assistance. An SES spokeswoman, Becky Gollings, said the worst-affected areas included Malabar, Randwick, Narellan and Kiama. At Kiama, about 80 homes and a fire station were damaged. About 85 homes were damaged near Narellan and about 40 near Randwick.

On the mid-north coast, major flooding caused havoc on Sunday, with highways closed, towns cut off and several people rescued. Low-lying parts of Port Macquarie, Kempsey, Grafton and surrounding towns were inundated and 20,000 people were left isolated in 37 communities.

Two people died in flood-related accidents over the weekend. Luke O'Neill, 17, was sucked into a drainpipe on Friday night as he was collecting golf balls in waist-deep water in the town of Kew. Early on Saturday afternoon, the body of a man was found in his submerged car on a flooded road at Mylneford, about 20 kilometres from Grafton.

Forecasters expect widespread rainfall across the state on Monday and Tuesday, with most parts of Sydney likely to pick up between five and 10 millimetres.

with Rachel Olding