Mini-tornados hit Queensland

ELLEN LUTTON
Last updated 22:58 26/01/2013
Fairfax Australia

Residents in Brisbane can expect "heavy rainfall and potentially damaging winds" with 200mm of rain expected over the next 24 hours into Australia Day

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TORNADO DAMAGE: Channel 9's Darren Curtis posted this photo of the devastation caused by a twister that tore through Bargara.
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Towns around the southeast Queensland city of Bundaberg could spend up to two days without power after five tornadoes wreaked havoc in the area on Australia Day.

Burnett Heads and nearby Bargara were declared disaster areas after twisters ripped through the coastal townships from 1pm AEST on Saturday, injuring a total of 17 people and damaging more than 150 homes.

Two people were critically injured when a giant pine fell on their parked car on the Esplanade at Bargara, while two homes were completely destroyed in the mini-cyclone that struck Burnett Heads.

Authorities said Burnett Heads was again struck by the latest in the series of twisters, which hit the area at 6pm AEST and 6.30pm.

Two people were believed to have been injured in the second onslaught, with powerlines down and at least one roof torn from a home.

And the Bureau of Meteorology says the worst may be yet to come.

It has forecast the ''strong possibility'' of further tornado activity around Burnett Heads, Wide Bay and at Maryborough, south of Bundaberg.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said powerlines were down in Burnett Heads and several buildings had lost their roofs.

Emergency services said the Bargara and Burnett Heads twisters had cut a ''swathe of damage''.

Power companies said it could take up to two days to restore electricity to the towns that were hit.

Bargara resident Judith McNamara, who witnessed the tornado through her kitchen window, said it left a car in her yard with a tree through it.

''All of a sudden ... I looked up and a tree went flying through the air ... and the car went up,'' she told ABC radio.

At least 15 other people were treated for minor injuries after being hit by flying glass and other debris in violent storm gusts.

A triage centre was set up outside a church at Bargara to treat the injured, while an evacuation centre was opened at Bundaberg, about 15km away.

Emergency Services Minister Jack Dempsey told Fairfax Media that a triage centre had been set up in Bargara to treat 15 other people injured by flying glass and debris.

"It's certainly an Australia Day no one in Bundaberg will every forget," he said.

"The fact that these tornadoes are completely unpredictable...we can't say whether they're finished or whether more or coming.

"People are shocked. They're anxious and the Queensland Ambulance Service has taken a number of calls from residents with anxiety."

The third twister badly damaged a home when it hit the coastal town of Coonarr, about 20km south of Bundaberg, around 4.30pm.

As of 7.30pm, residents in Bundaberg were being warned by Queensland police to stay indoors and shelter well clear of windows, doors and skylights as fierce storms continued to rage outside.

Meanwhile, residents in the small community of Winfield, north of Bundaberg, were issued an emergency notice and told to head to higher ground, with flooding imminent.

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The State Emergency Service was warning that nearby Baffle Creek was expected to rise above record levels set in 1971.

Bundaberg district disaster co-ordinator superintendent Rowan Bond said the rain at Winfield was ''unprecedented''.

Baffle Creek is higher than virtually anyone can remember,'' he told ABC TV.

Ergon Energy has warned that Bundaberg, Bargara and Burnett Heads could be without power for up to 48 hours.

 

Meanwhile, 500km south in Brisbane, people were on standby for the city's worst flooding since 2011.

Extremely heavy rainfall, storm tides and Wivanhoe Dam releases have put low-lying areas at risk of flooding and this morning Lord Mayor Graham Quirk announced three new temporary sandbag depots; two in Sandgate and one in Lota, on Brisbane's bayside.

These were in addition to the permanent depots in Newmarket, Balmoral, Darra and Virginia.

The Bureau of Meteorology had issued a severe weather warning for the area this weekend with damaging winds, heavy rainfall, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf conditions.

It said tides were expected to be almost a metre higher than those listed on tide charts.

"This is about being alert, but I urge residents to not be alarmed," Quirk said.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely over the weekend and I want people to still go out and have a good day on Australia Day, they simply need to be prepared 'just in case'."

The Saturday morning storm tides were also expected to put up to 1600 homes in danger of being inundated in the coastal Moreton Bay region, north of Brisbane.

Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Allan Sutherland said on Friday the council and SES were door-knocking homes in some of the areas at greatest risk.

''These potentially dangerous storm tides are associated with the ex-tropical cyclone Oswald which could also dump up to 400mm of rain on the Moreton region this weekend,'' the mayor said in a statement.

Sand and sandbags were available for areas potentially affected by storm tides at SES depots on Bribie Island, at Deception Bay and Redcliffe, he said.

Former Cyclone Oswald has been causing flooding across the state since Tuesday, when it crossed Cape York Peninsula's west coast and was downgraded to a low-pressure system.

Many Australia Day celebrations have been cancelled across the state due to the extreme weather.

Elsewhere, an emergency flood alert was issued on Saturday morning and residents of Tannum Sands and Boyne Island, at the mouth of the Boyne river, were being asked to evacuate.

The Bureau of Meteorology said about 4.8 metres of water was gushing over the nearby Awoonga Dam into the Boyne River, and levels over the spillway may reach six metres during Saturday with further continued rainfall.

West of Gladstone, over 370 mm fell at Boolaroo Tops, 347mm fell at Kroombit Tops 347mm in the Boyne catchment, and Captain Creek 307mm in the Baffle Creek catchment.

Flood warnings had been issued for the Calliope, Boyne, Baffle and Kolan Rivers.

The Local Disaster Management Group at Gladstone said flood levels along the Boyne River were to exceed one in 100 flood levels on the morning high tide at 8.45am (AEST) on Saturday and evening high tide at 9pm.

Residents at Callide Creek, 600km north of Brisbane, were urged to move to higher ground at the nearby Jambin Hall as a flood release from the Callide Dam was tipped to reach 1.5 metres.

People in the coastal towns of Toorbul and Meldale, between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, were meanwhile issued with a watch and act notice, with the Department of Community Safety warning the communities are likely to be affected by a dangerous storm surge caused by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald at 9am.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old man who had been stranded for 24 hours by flooding on a roadside in Queensland's northeast was plucked to safety by a helicopter on Friday night.

The man had been driving from Charters Towers to Mackay when his car became bogged, before rising floodwater left him stranded on the side of Suttor Development Road around 5pm on Thursday, the RACQ said.

The man couldn't be reached by road rescuers, so the RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was sent to his aid just before 5pm on Friday.

- with AAP

- Brisbane Times

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