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Raging hailstorm sweeps through Coffs Harbour, damaging local businesses and homes

Wednesday October 20, 2021 - 13:25 AEDT
ABC image
Joshua Woods captured this image as the hailstorm hit Boambee East, near Coffs Harbour. - ABC

A severe hailstorm and ferocious winds have hit the Coffs Harbour area on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, causing the roof of a shopping centre at Toormina to collapse and damaging other businesses and homes.


The supercell thrashed the Coffs region around 2pm with large hailstones and damaging winds but just after 7pm the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) cancelled the weather warning for the area.


However severe thunderstorms were expected further north overnight around Grafton, Murwillumbah, Evans Head, Woodburn, Yamba and Iluka.


Jane Jones, who owns a wholesale nursery at North Boambee, just south of Coffs Harbour, was caught in the middle of the storm on Wednesday afternoon.


"It was huge ? it was just like big boulders of hail, cars were going everywhere, it was crazy," she said.


"Toormina was absolutely annihilated ? there were cars underwater there.


"The hail was so thick on the road cars were actually sliding ? it was like you were at the snow and needed snow chains."


"I've been through a cyclone and it looked just like that .... there is debris everywhere.


"[The hail was] as big as golf balls, some of them."


Coffs Harbour Golf Club general manager Paul McAra said the storm swept through a fairly narrow area.


"One of our superintendents was across in town and he got no hail," he said.


"He came over the hill and it was just a sea of white.


"At the clubhouse all the gutters filled up with ice and the water started filling back into the clubhouse.


"When you looked out on the course you couldn't see a blade of glass ? it was just completely covered in white.


"I have been working here 10 years and haven seen anything like it before ? it was just incredible."


Flood of calls for help


State Emergency Service deputy zone commander Tony Day said the storm cell hit mainly affected the Coffs Harbour CBD and Boambee and Toormina, south of the city.


He said there had already been about 300 calls for help.


"The resources are now being organised to be deployed into Coffs Harbour to respond to those calls for assistance," Mr Day said.


"Police have set up a forward command point at the Toormina Shopping Centre, where there's been a roof collapse, and we're beginning to assess the level of damage and prioritise our response to all the calls for assistance.


"It's early days at this stage ? many people may still be at work and need to return home and assess the damage, so we're still prioritising jobs, triaging the calls for assistance and assessing the size and scale of the response operation."


At least two schools will be closed on Thursday, including Toormina High School and Bishop Druitt College.


The ABC understands a nursing home in the area has also been damaged.


Holes in greens


Mr McAra said the extent of the damage at the club was being assessed.


"The greens that are really, really hard, they've got holes in the greens," he said.


"Obviously the cars are damaged, a lot of our sheeting is damaged.


"We will have to wait and see tomorrow when we get a chance to inspect the roof and have a look at the course itself.


"We have a big Festival of Golf next week, which is our premier event of the year, so it's not great timing."


Mr McAra said it had been a challenging couple of years, but he remained positive.


"We all thought coming out of 2020 that we had beaten COVID, and then COVID came again, and then the floods, and now we've got this," he said.


"We are really lucky, we have a really supportive membership and golf's been in an upsurge, so we are much better off than a lot of businesses."


Ms Jones said it would take a few months to recover at the nursery.


"We have bigger plants like frangipanis, bromeliads and different types of cactus, and anything that was not undercover has been damaged quite badly," she said.


"There is probably be three months' worth of growing that we'd have to catch up on.


"Several thousand dollars worth of stock there that we've lost ? we won't be able to sell it because of the damage that has been done to it."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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