AFTER viewing Kiama's storm damage from the air, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell yesterday likened it to the tornadoes that cut through states in the US, leaving devastation in their wake.
Mr O'Farrell attended the Kiama SES headquarters about midday after a helicopter flight over the township, which is still recovering from the extreme weather event that struck about 3am on Sunday.
Mr O'Farrell later declared Kiama a natural disaster zone, a declaration that triggers a number of disaster assistance schemes to help with the cost of storm relief and recovery.
More than 100 homes were damaged during the violent storm, with three completely destroyed and a further eight likely to be deemed uninhabitable.
Minnamurra, Gipps, Pacific and Antrim streets were some of the worst affected by the storm, which also ripped roofs off the Kiama Fire Station and parts of Kiama Leisure Centre and caused damage to Blue Haven retirement village.
"[It's] not good to see the impact of another weather event on a community ... such an extraordinary scene from the air, the swath that this storm or event took through this area," Mr O'Farrell said.
"It was extraordinary flying over, seeing the roof of the fire station missing, seeing from the air mature trees that look as though they've been through a mix-master, seeing blue tarpaulins along a defined corridor.
"This is the sort of event that you associate with a tornado going through parts of those areas of America, not usually what you'd see going along our coastline."
Mr O'Farrell said the declaration of a natural disaster would give residents and business owners access to a number of disaster assistance schemes.
These schemes were made available by the NSW government through the NSW Disaster Assistance Arrangements and are jointly funded by the Commonwealth government through the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
He said these measures would help families, business owners, primary producers and local councils to restore any damage caused by the severe storms and flooding and ease some of the associated burden.
Mr O'Farrell said he hoped that the government assistance would be unlocked by midday today.
About 850 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers have been working closely with Fire and Rescue NSW, the Rural Fire Service and police in the clean-up.
NSW SES Deputy Commissioner Tara McCarthy said there had been 170 requests for assistance, and only a handful were outstanding at midday yesterday and would soon be cleared.
The main concern now, she said, was the asbestos threat, which yesterday caused the worst-affected streets to be cordoned off and some residents to be evacuated.
"While the asbestos was wet it wasn't a concern - obviously we're seeing now the conditions are becoming sunny and it's drying out," Ms McCarthy said.
"It will take a couple of days to clean up."
Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler said no evacuation centres had been set up, with victims of the storm being hosted by family and friends.
He said residents had been taken by surprise by the storm.
"It seemed to sweep up from Bombo Beach, up across Minnamurra Street over a sharp hill down across the valley behind and over into the Jamberoo Valley," he said.
"It seemed to peter out as it approached Saddleback Mountain.
"I was absolutely amazed at the ferocity of the event itself ... it's astounding people weren't killed ... "
Though there remained some confusion over what exactly to term the event, Mr O'Farrell said it had certainly made an extraordinary impact on a town and its people.