RESIDENTS of 20 homes in Kiama have been evacuated due to the threat posed by asbestos contamination caused by Saturday night's storm, and may not be able to return to their homes for a week.
At a community meeting in the town's council chambers last night, residents were told 14 homes in Minnamurra Street and six units in Swan Place would be evacuated by 7am this morning.
Lake Illawarra Police commander Wayne Starling said much of Minnamurra Street, as well as the Swan Place premises, would be blocked and police would be standing guard, with no one allowed in while the clean up takes place.
The evacuations are in line with advice from an asbestos specialist firm enlisted by the Kiama council in the wake of the storm.
Superintendent Starling said some of the yards looked "like a bomb's gone off", with small pieces of asbestos scattered around. These were likely to be disturbed by heavy machinery, which would be sent in for the clean up.
"Our experts tell us that people in these residences are at great risk, as soon as they start going back and start cleaning up these residences," Superintendent Starling said.
"Our main priority is to make sure everyone's safe."
The number of houses to be evacuated has been revised down from earlier estimates.
Police will be issuing community information notices to the affected streets today.
Yesterday, parts of Minnamurra Street and Hothersal Street were closed for asbestos inspections.
Last night, residents were told the Brown Street industrial complex had been declared safe after air testing for asbestos, while the Kiama Leisure Centre would be closed for the foreseeable future.
In an online statement, the Kiama SES Unit also advised nearby residents to keep windows closed and wear a "P2" mask - available from hardware stores - "if you have concerns".
"This decision has not been made lightly and has been done with consideration to the future health risk to residents. Machinery will be operating in that area, which may increase the risk to residents whilst it is being utilised."
The SES encouraged affected residents to avoid handling material expected to contain asbestos and to wipe down with a damp cloth any area of their homes exposed to the elements - then discard the cloth.
Residents were advised to wash their vehicles - especially the car tyres - using water only if they leave their premises.
They should also wash their feet and clothes, especially their shoes.
Residents can call 132 500 and request an inspection for asbestos.
Green waste can be taken to the Minnamurra tip with fees waived by the Kiama council. Those needing to dispose of rubble need to go to Minnamurra and get a voucher to cover fees, which can be used at the Shellharbour tip at Dunmore.