NSW

'I thought the whole house was going to go': SES crews clean up after punishing storm

Jan McKergow and her husband narrowly avoided serious injury when large bricks began falling on to their bed after a tornado-like storm ripped through their Forbes Creek home on Saturday night.

A supercell storm gave Canberra its highest daily rainfall of the month with 28 millimetres falling overnight, but the capital was spared the brunt of the damage.

Falling bricks narrowly missed Jan McKergow and her husband in their bedroom on Saturday night when a storm ripped ...
Falling bricks narrowly missed Jan McKergow and her husband in their bedroom on Saturday night when a storm ripped through their Forbes Creek home. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The small community of Forbes Creek, about 46 kilometres from Canberra near Bungendore, wasn't so lucky, with up to seven homes seriously damaged and some all but destroyed when a second supercell storm hit shortly before midnight.

"We were in bed and I could feel rain coming in through the window and I got up to close it ... still half asleep, and I said 'It's very wet' and my husband looked up and said 'There's no roof'," Mrs McKergow said.

The Queanbeyan SES Facebook page shows the extent of the damage.
The Queanbeyan SES Facebook page shows the extent of the damage. Photo: Supplied

"There were really strong winds ... cyclonic winds, and then the bricks started falling over the bed and just missed him."

Across the road from Mrs McKergow's property, Rosemary Smith said the "horrific" storm sounded like an earthquake when it ripped the roof off her 120-year-old home while her husband Ian slept.

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She said the storm lifted a neighbour's weatherboard house off its footings while paddocks were littered with corrugated iron, solar panels and bricks; and yellow insulation looked like decoration sprinkled through the few remaining trees.

"We had thunder and lightning for hours ... then around 11pm we had a really heavy downpour of rain … then suddenly there was this loud noise and it ripped through in about five minutes," she said.

Roofs have been lifted and properties strewn with debris, as seen on the Queanbeyan SES Facebook page.
Roofs have been lifted and properties strewn with debris, as seen on the Queanbeyan SES Facebook page.  Photo: Supplied

"Long enough for me to run from one room to the centre of the hall and call out to my husband and say 'What do we do?'.

"I thought the whole house was going to go."

Another post on the Queanbeyan SES Facebook page. The destruction was isolated, but serious.
Another post on the Queanbeyan SES Facebook page. The destruction was isolated, but serious. Photo: Supplied

Crews from several State Emergency Service and Rural Fire Service units, Essential Energy and local police helped clean up and secure homes on Sunday morning, Palerang​ SES local controller Lloyd Meehan said.

"There has been very intense damage, a number of houses have been substantially damaged," he said.

Both women were surprised how isolated the storm damage was and were trying to rescue possessions on Sunday in case it rained again.

"It's quite crazy, on one side of the creek everything is fine ... then you come over to this side and it's like desolation," Mrs Smith said.

"Some trees have fallen in one direction and others in a different direction so it can only be that it [the wind] was circling like some sort of mini tornado or cyclone ... it was gone in five minutes."

Mrs McKergow said the storm path was less than 200 metres wide.

But it was enough to tear the roofs and solar panels off several homes, and flatten two shearing sheds, a barn, water tank, playground, fences and trees.

SES spokesman Phil Campbell said the worst of the storm was isolated to Forbes Creek; across the rest of the southern tablelands there had only been 22 requests for assistance.

"There's just one pocket of severe damage caused by a very isolated storm cell," he said.

Mrs Smith said she still didn't know if her home could be salvaged. SES crews were working to cover the water-logged ceiling to protect the furniture beneath.

The McKergows lost 40 trees in the storm and the Smiths had an entire row of pine trees uprooted, leaving trailer-sized craters in the ground.

Mrs McKergow and her husband will stay with friends nearby while their concrete block home is secured, but rebuilding elsewhere is not an option.

"This is the centre of paradise," she said.

Mrs McKergow said neighbours, the RFS and the SES had been incredibly supportive, and Mrs Smith said people she had never met before from nearby Hoskinstown​ were helping pack the family's possessions.

Crews were assessing if anyone else was in need of temporary accommodation in the Forbes Creek area and checking outlying farmhouses for damage.

RFS and council crews used bulldozers to clear the many fallen trees in the area hit hardest by the storm.

Several storm cells passed over Canberra on Saturday with the most severe bringing hail to much of the city in the early evening.

The Emergency Services Agency reported 50 calls for help to ACT Fire and Rescue and the SES as of 8am Sunday, but there were no reports of serious damage.

The Hoskinstown Community Hall was set up as a community liaison point on Sunday morning and operations were being directed out of the Bungendore SES headquarters.

The Queanbeyan SES unit was also involved in the clean-up, posting pictures of extensive damage to several homes on Facebook.

A Queanbeyan team is headed to assist the NSW SES Bungendore unit deal with the affects from last nights storm. Several homes were damaged quite extensively during the storm.

Posted by NSW SES - Queanbeyan Unit on Saturday, 30 January 2016