A severe storm battered Perth and its suburbs with powerful winds, large hailstones and heavy rain on March 22, causing damage to buildings and vehicles and cutting power to tens of thousands of homes, according to reports. The storm cell hit the Perth metropolitan area late on March 22, bringing wind gusts of over 120 kmph (75 mph), golf-ball sized hail and up to 65 mm (2.5 inches) of rainfall. Officials said the storm’s trail of destruction extends from Joondalup down through the western suburbs and further south to Mandurah. Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett declared the city a natural disaster zone and estimated the damage bill will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Insurance Council of Australia has also declared the event an insurance catastrophe. The Council says it is too early to place an estimate on the cost or the number of claims, but it should have a better idea within the next 48 hours.
Premier Barnett said the storm was possibly the most severe to hit Perth since May 1994, when powerful winds caused widespread damage and power outages. Some 160,000 households lost power in Perth at the height of the recent storm after lightning knocked out Western Power’s north-Perth sub station. Western Power said it had reconnected 100,000 customers by 15:00 local time on March 23 and was aiming to restore the remaining households within 48 hours of the storm.
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Initial assessments suggest property and vehicles were badly damaged by the strong winds, hail and heavy rain. The State Emergency Service received about 2,000 calls for help as the heavy rain inundated homes and trees and power lines came down on property. Twenty people were evacuated from the emergency department at Joondalup Hospital in Perth’s northern suburbs after parts of the ceiling caved in. Other hospitals were flooded and around 30 schools were damaged, reports said. Windows and glasshouses were also shattered at The University of Western Australia, where officials said the damage bill would be in the tens of millions of dollars. Elsewhere, the domestic terminal at Perth Airport collapsed, prompting internal flight delays. Cars had their windscreens smashed by the hailstones, while hazardous driving conditions worsened when 150 sets of traffic lights went blank and roads flooded. More than 100 people had to be evacuated from an apartment block on Mounts Bay Road near King’s Park in Perth’s CBD after the heavy rain caused a landslide.
Elsewhere in Australia, Cyclone Ului came ashore as a tropical storm over the east coast of Queensland on March 20. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center said sustained winds of between 75 kmph (45 mph) and 93 kmph (57 mph) were recorded as the storm made landfall. Initial damage assessments suggest property damage was limited but several boats were washed ashore, particularly in the Airlie Beach area. Meanwhile, Queensland Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin said the sugar and dairy industries in the Mackay and Proserpine region were badly hit by the cyclone.
Sources: Agence France Presse, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Associated Press, Herald-Sun, The Australian, Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser, AAP Bulletins
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