SYDNEY • An unusual tornado hit Sydney yesterday with winds above 200kmh and cricket ball- sized hail, bringing down trees and power lines, tearing off roofs, overturning vehicles and causing flash flooding.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued the rare tornado warning around midday as the dangerous storm swept up the coast from Sydney's south, forcing some international and domestic flights to be diverted to other cities.
"We really had no warning. The sky just went really black and we had this massive clap of thunder," said Ms Meredith Sullivan, 48,
a worker at the industrial park in Kurnell neighbourhood, which is near the beachside suburb of Cronulla.
"Then the gusts of winds were just horrific, you could hear the roof starting to lift, and debris was starting to fly around. All the cars were pretty much destroyed."
Kurnell, which is close to Sydney's airport, was closed to all but emergency services, who were assessing the damage.
Wind gusts as high as 213kmh were recorded there.
"There is obvious evidence that we have had a tornado go through Cronulla," BOM meteorologist Alan Sharp said.
Social media was swamped by pictures of the huge, dark storm as it engulfed the harbour city, plunging a 25 deg C summer's day into darkness.
A man who called in to a Sydney radio station described a scene of extreme damage in Kurnell, images of which showed a truck overturned and building parts flung around. "My neighbour's roof is gone, the trees are all down in the front yard," he said.
A shopping centre in Sydney's eastern suburb was also evacuated after part of its roof collapsed, and one woman suffered minor injuries.
About 6,000 homes were reportedly without power south of the city, and rescue services received more than 200 calls for help .
"The tornado risk has now subsided but there is a very good chance of more thunderstorm activity for the rest of today," said BOM senior meteorologist James Taylor.
Australia is experiencing an El Nino weather pattern, a phenomenon associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods which is expected to become one of the strongest on record.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE