Fierce Kiama tornado left trail of destruction

SES workers clean up in Minnamurra Street, Kiama, after the tornadoes hit last year.
SES workers clean up in Minnamurra Street, Kiama, after the tornadoes hit last year.

As heavy rain and wind began lashing the South Coast in the early hours of February 24 last year, Kiama SES operations coordinator Anthony Moncrieff rushed to his unit's headquarters.

There, he found 50 jobs waiting in the computer system.

But before he and his volunteers could help the public, they had to help the town's fire brigade.

"We got a call from the fire brigade saying, 'Can you help us get our trucks out, then we'll help you'," Mr Moncrieff said.

The brigade's roof had come off in the storm, and debris was preventing firefighters taking their pumpers on to the road.

"It was very ironic, it was quite funny actually," he said.

"We had to do that, then the crews got out and saw the extent of damage."

It wasn't until that afternoon, when staff from the Bureau of Meteorology visited the area, that Mr Moncrieff learnt a tornado had been responsible for the destruction in Kiama.

He said crews had been "gobsmacked" when visiting one of the heaviest hit parts of the town, Minnamurra Street.

"They just could not believe the extent of the damage - it wasn't clear until the sun came up completely how bad it was," Mr Moncrieff said

"We positioned ourselves at the top of Minnamurra Street and the guys just started going up and down, looking at what the damage was.

"Early on, we had to do a rescue of an elderly lady stuck in her home on that street."

Initial recovery work was put on hold after it was revealed many homes contained asbestos.

"We had to evacuate people, change a lot of what we were doing," Mr Moncrieff said.

"It wasn't until the third day we got houses cleaned up and secured."

Until only recently, a tarp was still covering one of the houses damaged in the storm, and another damaged home was bulldozed in December.

Mr Moncrieff said his SES unit would commemorate the event.

"We are looking back over what we did at that event and obviously seeing what we did well and didn't do well," he said. "But we're all very pleased with how we handled it and what we did.

"It wasn't just an SES response ... the fire brigade, Rural Fire Service and even council were helping us."


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