A freak thunderstorm and tornado has smashed Sydney ‘like a freight train’, ripping roofs off houses, blasting open office windows and flipping trucks on their sides with the strongest winds ever recorded in the state.
Kurnell, a Sutherland Shire suburb, was ground zero for the superstorm with tornado winds of 213km/h tearing through the area, the monster gale lifting trees by their roots and smashing some into homes.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) announced on Twitter that the gusts were the strongest ever recorded by their equipment in NSW.
The city’s desalination plant in Kurnell was damaged with remnants of its insulation bats and roof sheeting caught in trees and wetlands, hundreds of metres from where they once were.
Hailstones battered the area and smashed car windscreens, and paramedics have treated two people for shock and one with head injury at an address near Sir Joseph Banks Drive.
Riot Squad police were helping distraught locals return to their damaged properties across the region. The entire suburb is without power and sewerage, and police say that may last until Thursday morning.
Emergency services have taken hundreds of calls and there are reports of multiple building collapses and even a truck tipped over in the wild winds.
Two of the worst hit areas by the tornado in Kurnell were Tasman and Bridges Streets.
One local, Frank Partlic, had just sold his home at 26 Tasman Street before it met with destruction.
It sold for a record $1.15million at auction on Tuesday afternoon – only for the tornado to destroy his renovated home of 17 years with six-months of pre-sale work behind it.
All that’s left is the walls, every room is inundated with roofing, sodden insulation and broken timber.
‘When it hit it was heavy rain and then this sheet of white like a fog came down,’ Mr Partlic told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Then it started, things coming off the roof, like a domino effect, and I had a look outside wondering where my daughter was and this huge black thing was flying through the air at me so I slammed the door.’
It was a trampoline flying at him from across the road.
‘I ran to the back because the roof started collapsing and when the back corner caved in, I tried to grab my wallet and iPad and find somewhere safe.
‘It went through and down to the gully and then turned back around and came again, like it was chasing me.’
Shane Hendricks, 28, was recovering at home from a broken rib with partner Ellie Warner when it swept in and ripped apart their home at 16 Tasman Street.
‘I had no idea, no warning,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘It was swirling and came in hard ripping everything up.’
They took refuge in a bedroom with all their pets, including a horse, saving dozens of birds from a destroyed aviary, 12 dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits.
Natalie and Paul Hennessy on Bridges Street arrived home to find their home in tatters, holes in the roof, sodden carpets with broken glass and timber strewn through the rooms.
Other residents walked through the streets shell-shocked, stunned at the damage which had been wrought in such a short time.
‘It’s everything we worked up to, everything’s gone,’ Mrs Hennessy cried.
‘The ceilings have caved in, even the floors have collapsed, everything.
‘It’s everything we ever wanted – we had a brand new bathroom now look at it.
‘We were going to have Christmas here with the whole family, now where will we go?’
At one office complex in Kurnell the storm blasted the windows open, scattering files and trashing the room.
‘It was the winds — it sucked the windows out,’ worker Renee Celarc told Daily Mail Australia. ‘It was scary… we were all inside at the time.’
Local man Daniel Hipwell, who was working on a site in Green Hills in Cronulla said he and his colleagues watched the storm roll in.
‘Our blokes were all stuck in the machinery and had to stick it out,’ Mr Hipwell told Daily Mail Australia.
He said he heard reports that people in Kurnell are stuck in buildings which collapsed during the tornado, and a factory had its roof completely ripped off.
‘Some of us tried to head in to see if we could help… [but] they’ve closed the roads off and there’s a lot of emergency response, police and ambulances’ he said.
The rain soon let up in Kurnell, but residents were left stranded on Captain Cook Drive as police block all entrances to the site of a freak tornado.
Peter Myers, a Sutherland shire resident, said his daughters front windows ‘blew straight in’ on her and her three-month-old child.
The woman and her child have been evacuated along with other residents to the rural fire service headquarters in Martin Park.
Mr Myers said his neighbour’s boat flew onto his brand new car during the storm, destroying it.
It was a common experience.
‘My son had a boat parked in the driveway, and his boat disappeared – we found it on the other side of the road,’ said Kurnell resident Dianne Hennessy.
‘My son hasn’t been able to get home because he’s been at work. This is his house – he doesn’t even know what he’s coming home to.’
Roads to Kurnell are not expected to reopen until tonight, as powerlines and trees litter the road. Ausgrid and emergency services vehicles are still entering the area.
The desalination plant in Kurnell was evacuated after reportedly sustaining significant damage and workers were also cleared out of the Caltex refinery.
A Caltex spokeswoman said workers at the Kurnell refinery were evacuated as a safety precaution and there were no oil spills. She said the company was not aware of any injuries at the facility.
A 40-year-old man suffered head injuries in Kurnell and ambulance NSW said officers treated two other people.
They were all transferred to Sutherland Hospital in a stable condition.
There was chaos in the city’s east, too. Bondi Junction shopping centre was evacuated after parts of a roof collapsed. A woman, thought to be in her 60s, was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in a stable condition for unknown trauma.
A balcony in Maroubra in Sydney’s eastern suburbs collapsed and the roof of a unit was damaged as storms travelled north.
Beth, who lives and works in Cronulla in the city’s south, said ‘golf ball-size hail’ fell on St Andrew’s Anglican Church.
‘We had some brown-outs, lots of thunder and lightning, and some large hail,’ she said.
‘The wind was strong and it was hitting our glass windows. I have a big dint in the front of my car.’
Sydney Airport was closely monitoring the storm activity with passengers being advised to check flight details with their airlines, an airport spokeswoman said.
Qantas has delayed some flights until the storm clears up.
BOM originally said severe thunderstorms would continue into the night with destructive winds, large hailstorms and very heavy rainfall.
But at around 5.30pm, the severe weather warning was cancelled, with the destructive winds moving offshore.
‘The immediate threat of severe thunderstorms has passed, but the situation will continue to be monitored and further warnings will be issued if necessary,’ BOM said in a statement of Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and surrounding areas.
However, shortly after 7pm, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the North West Slopes and Plains, Northern Tablelands and parts of the Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast, Central West Slopes and Plains and Upper Western Districts.
It warned of large hailstorms, heavy rainfall, flash flooding and damaging winds over the next few hours for Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Armidale, Tamworth, Moree and Lightning Ridge.
Meanwhile, it was fine and sunny in Melbourne on Wednesday with a maximum of 29 degrees. The city is expected to enjoy its first 40-degree December day since 2010 this weekend ahead of a four-day heatwave.
South Australia is also currently experiencing extremely warm weather – so hot in fact that international arrivals are being warned about the extreme heat and how to deal with it.
And across the pond it was set to swelter in parts of New Zealand, with temperatures in Christchurch forecast to hit a balmy 33 degrees.