Mildura mini tornado: Merbein residents face days of clean-up after freak storm

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Residents at Merbein, near Mildura in Victoria’s far north-west, still face days of clean-up after Friday’s mini tornado, which swept through the town damaging homes and felling trees.

SES crews from across Victoria were travelling to affected areas on Saturday to assist local volunteers with the clean-up.

Merbein, west of Mildura, was hardest hit with more than 20 homes in the town losing roofs.

Locals said the mini tornado was quick, fierce and had a roar “like a train”.

A number of large trees were also uprooted or lost limbs in Friday evening’s storms, with some damaging homes and businesses.

Parts of Mildura, Red Cliffs and Cardross were also affected, with trees downed and power lines damaged. There were also reports of damage to crops and vineyards.

Emergency services received about 380 requests for assistance, but no injuries were reported.

Residents, businesses without power, phone services

Mildura Rural City Council municipal recovery officer Martin Hawson told a community meeting in Merbein on Saturday that 32 people had sought alternative accommodation because their homes were damaged.

At the meeting, many people reported they were without access to a working landline phone or mobile phone service due to patchy coverage.

The storm caused widespread power outages across the Sunraysia region, with 5,700 Powercor customers left without power on Friday night, but supply has since been largely restored.

The outage forced most businesses in Merbein to close and many in Mildura were also affected, with at least one supermarket forced to throw out refrigerated items.

Mildura SES unit controller Michael Hellwege said the unit’s three vehicles and crews were “swamped” and, despite assistance from CFA crews, had limited capacity to respond to the many reports of damage.

“This is by far the biggest event of this type … its second only to the 2011 flood event for us. It’s by far the largest in my 30 years in the SES,” he said.
Mr Hellwege said the Mildura SES headquarters was running on a generator on Saturday after losing power.

‘I walked outside and there was no roof on the house’

Allan Mensforth’s home was among many houses in the west side of Commercial Street significantly damaged by the mini tornado.

Late on Saturday, Mr Mensforth was still waiting for SES assistance to fix his roof.

“I’ve lost the front part of my house’s roof so when it rained, all the house was flooded inside,” he said.

“We realised that it had come through … stronger than we had thought. I walked outside and there was no roof on the house.”

Mr Mensforth said he had experienced bad storms in his time as a truck driver but never like the mini tornado that hit Merbein.

“I can quite honestly tell you that if you had been in a truck, it would have tipped the truck over so it was pretty strong,” he said.
Ripped-off roofs damages home interiors

In the centre of Merbein, Graham Burns described the storm like a “train going through the middle of the house”.

“Next thing I know, there was a loud thump and a bang and the trees over the back came in over the back fence and my roof disappeared over the next-door neighbours,” he said.
“I’ve lost a third of the roof and the rain has come right the way through and saturated, I suppose, three-quarters of the floors and walls in the house.”

Mr Burns’ car was also damaged, with a tree smashing the back windscreen.

Stephen Dixon, of Merbein, said he was not home at the time when the mini tornado hit and ripped off part of his roof, but his two teenage children were home.

“It was an exciting ride for them. It was scary — luckily no-one was hurt,” he said.

“It was over very quickly. There was a calm before the storm and then it was all over.”

By Lauren Henry Posted on 11/12/16
Photo by Lauren Henry

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Kyrie Wagner

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