Kiama residents awoke to scenes of destruction yesterday morning after a tornado ripped through the township leaving a trail of severely damaged homes in its wake.
Three homes were totally destroyed and the future of seven others was still to be determined as the State Emergency Service received 158 calls for assistance from the Kiama area.
Aerial photographs reveal the path the tornado took when it hit land at the south end of Bombo Beach around 3am.
From there it climbed up the hill through Gipps, Pacific and Antrim Streets before it caused maximum damage to homes at the highest point of Minnamurra Street.
The storm system then continued south-west, damaging parts of the Blue Haven retirement village, and ripped roofs off the Kiama Fire Station and parts of the Kiama Leisure Centre.
The tornado continued across the Princes Highway into the Cedar Ridge Estate.
Gipps Street resident Darren Ritchie said a waterfront home on the north side of Gipps St appeared to explode when the storm hit.
Mr Ritchie said he was woken by what sounded like a freight train around 3am and he ran to get his 18-month-old son.
"It lasted about a minute ... we escaped with just two broken windows, but the two holiday homes next door were severely damaged," Mr Ritchie said.
Further down Gipps Street former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Bruce Elder said he had always joked that he wanted to be in a tornado, but never thought he would be in one in Kiama.
The Elders had a window broken thanks to debris from the unoccupied house next door which had windows and a verandah ripped off at the front and windows smashed at the rear.
"The rain was unbelievable ... it was absolutely solid," Mr Elder said. "Then the wind started to build up and build up ... then the whole house started to shake."
Mr Elder's wife Kim is a former California resident.
"I have lived through earthquakes and they were nothing like this," she said.
At the highest point of Minnamurra Street residents were woken by a noise they described as being like a jet aircraft.
About five homes on the north side of the street were severely damaged with roofs and even rooms completely taken off by the winds, the bulk of the damage being caused to homes in a section of the street about 150 metres wide.
One woman had a lucky escape when the bedroom in which she was sleeping was the only part of her house to remain in place.
Debris and contents from the affected homes, from tiles to furniture, caused significant damage to cars and homes on the south side of Minnamurra Street.
The street was covered in broken tiles, wood, shattered glass, books and clumps of pink and yellow insulation which had been sprayed across cars like fairy floss.
Minnamurra Street resident Rob Nelson said he awoke to a noise that sounded like "a plane going down" and from his window could see roofs flapping in the wind with lights still attached.
His trusty Toyota van survived, albeit with quite a few dents from flying materials, but other cars did not fare so well with one Subaru copping the full force of a flying roof.
Over at the Blue Haven retirement village, Tony Heslin said he was woken by the lighthouse light which seemed twice as bright as usual.
"We always sleep with the window open, it faces east. The wind was driving through the window and when it woke us it had been so strong Beryl had wet feet in the bed!" he laughed.
The couple had parked their motor home on the street the night before in preparation for a Sunday trip and it had been damaged by falling branches.
Kiama firefighter Ben Daly began his day searching for a section of the Kiama fire station's roof, which along with his shirt - name tag still attached - was found about 500 metres away.
Another section of the station's roof - estimated to weigh about 600 kilograms - was hanging precariously about 20 metres from the ground in trees across the road.
"It took four of us to lift a similar section this morning so you can see how powerful this storm was to put that up there," Mr Daly said.