A super cell thunderstorm battered Melbourne and its suburbs on March 6, causing severe damage to homes, businesses and vehicles from Flemington to Ferntree Gully. The storm system brought winds of up to 100 kmph (60 mph) to the region and dumped hailstones that measured around 100 mm (4 inches) in diameter, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). Flash flooding was also reported as up to 45 mm (1.8 inches) of rain fell in around 30 minutes. Reports said Melbourne’s entire metropolitan area was hit by the severe weather, with officials saying the city’s eastern and southeastern areas were particularly badly affected, including Ferntree Gully, Knox, Lysterfield and Scoresby. The western suburbs of Melton and Essendon were also badly hit. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.
Some 100,000 households lost power in Melbourne at the height of the storm. Weather experts said the hailstones were among the biggest to hit Melbourne in the past century. BoM officials said the event was of historical proportions as lemon-sized hail fell in some suburbs of Melbourne. Reports suggest there is widespread building and vehicle damage in the city while major infrastructure was damaged. Officials estimate hundreds of millions of dollars in damage was caused by the hailstones. In Melbourne’s city centre, the National Gallery of Victoria suffered flooding, while the Docklands Stadium was among those buildings damaged during the storm. Reports said other major buildings such as the Alfred hospital, the Etihad Stadium, the Ballet Centre, Victoria’s SES headquarters and No 1 Treasury Place suffered some serious water damage. The hail also damaged the roof of Southern Cross Railway Station and trains were not able to stop there for hours. The Melbourne to Sydney rail line was also closed because of flood damage at Mangalore.
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The State Emergency Service (SES) took more than 6,500 calls for assistance, with crews handling mostly roof repairs, collapsed ceilings and flood damage. Early damage assessments indicate some properties suffered roof damage with reports of broken tiles and smashed glass. Victoria Premier John Brumby said 11 families in Melbourne and 4 families in eastern Victoria had to evacuate their homes. The powerful winds also downed trees and power lines in parts of Melbourne. Officials said some underground car parks were flooded while car dealers in Melbourne said hundreds of new and used cars on forecourts suffered dented bodywork and smashed windows. Thousands of private cars parked on streets were also damaged. Reports said the damage bill to cars alone is expected to run into millions of dollars. Several sporting events in Melbourne were also cancelled over the weekend.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared the event a catastrophe. The ICA said the insurance industry has already received some 20,000 claims and this number is expected to rise significantly over the next few days, especially as people return home from the State’s Labor Day holiday weekend. Some reports suggest the damage may result in the highest number of claims made from one event in Victoria. The BoM said the most recent hailstorm of similar intensity to hit Australia occurred in Sydney in 1999. Reports said insurance companies paid out AUD3.3 billion (USD3 billion) for that storm.
Elsewhere in Australia, severe floods were peaking in the state of Queensland. Townships in the state’s cotton-growing south were cut off by rising flood waters and in St George the Balonne River reached 13.5 meters (44 feet), its highest level since records began in 1890. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the cost of the flooding would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars as there had been major damage to highways and rail lines had been washed away. Indeed, the ICA has also declared this event a catastrophe after insurance companies received 7,500 claims at an estimated cost of AUD120 million (USD109 million).
Sources: Agence France Presse, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Associated Press, Herald-Sun, The Australian, Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser, AAP Bulletins, Dow Jones International News, Sunday Herald Sun
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