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Bunbury tornado aftermath: Residents left with massive clean up job in wake of freak tornado

Oliver LaneThe West Australian
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At least 40 homes have been damaged and more than a thousand will be without power until at least Sunday afternoon.
Camera IconAt least 40 homes have been damaged and more than a thousand will be without power until at least Sunday afternoon. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

At least 40 homes have been damaged and more than a thousand will be without power until at least Sunday afternoon as authorities and residents are left to assess the damage of a freak tornado that tore through Bunbury’s southern suburbs on Friday.

The tornado was reported near South Bunbury about 4pm Friday afternoon, causing significant damage to any homes or buildings in its path — and prompting an asbestos warning in the area.

It was all over in about five minutes, with wind gusts up to 54km/h at its height. About 14.2mm of rain was recorded in less than an hour.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a hazardous materials warning about 12.30pm on Saturday for Withers.

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“There is a potential presence of asbestos within the impact area of yesterday’s tornado, specifically around the Hay Park Sporting Complex and surrounding residential areas,” the alert said.

“People commencing clean up activities around their properties in this area are advised to exercise caution and should not use items such as blower vacuums and brooms.”

Urban Search and Rescue Rapid Damage Assessment teams are on the scene, working to locate any possible asbestos contamination.

All sport at the South West Sport Centre has been cancelled for Saturday.

Bunbury Hockey Stadium was also forced to cancel its busy bee Saturday morning following asbestos concerns.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a hazardous materials warning about 12.30pm on Saturday for Withers.
Camera IconThe Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a hazardous materials warning about 12.30pm on Saturday for Withers. Credit: Oliver Lane/South West Times

“Upon inspection of the stadium this morning with council and other experts, the Executive have decided to cancel today’s working bee, not only due to the extensive damage, but the main concern is the amount of asbestos on and around the stadium,” it advised members and volunteers via its Facebook page.

“As soon as we have a new day/time we will advise as soon as we can. Please stay away from the stadium and the grass fields surrounding as the asbestos is everywhere.

“The Exec and Club Presidents are meeting tonight to formulate plans moving forward.”

Emergency services have received at least 120 calls for help since 4pm on Friday, but DFES and SES staff and volunteers had only been able to attend 40 calls by midday.

An evacuation centre remains open at the Eaton Recreation Centre.

The tornado ripped through the Police and Community Youth Centre in Withers when children, including about 15 neurodiverse children, were miraculously on the side of the building away from where the brunt of the damage was sustained.

It left walls caved in and debris everywhere in its wake, with one woman in her 30s was left with significant bruising.

No children were injured.

An evacuation centre remains open at the Eaton Recreation Centre.
Camera IconAn evacuation centre remains open at the Eaton Recreation Centre. Credit: Oliver Lane

The severe storm event also caused the roofs of two buildings to collapse at Bunbury Regional Prison.

An inmate in his 50s was injured and sent to hospital, where he remained on Saturday morning in a stable condition.

Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia was in Bunbury on Saturday, where he confirmed the demise of the two buildings at the prison, leaving 17 low-risk prisoners needing to be moved.

Two prisoners were injured, with one suffering a broken wrist and the other bruising.

Mr Papalia said work was being done to minimise impacts on prison programs despite the traumatic event.

“We’re very fortunate that (major) physical injury was limited, in this case to one of the prisoners,” he said.

”Like the PCYC, we have many prisoners and staff who have been exposed to a really confronting and traumatic event ... we’ve definitely lost at least two of the buildings.”

More than 1600 homes were yet to have their power restored by Saturday afternoon in Bunbury, South Bunbury, Withers and Carey Park, with electricity not expected to return until 4pm on Sunday.

Emergency services have received at least 120 calls for help since 4pm on Friday.
Camera IconEmergency services have received at least 120 calls for help since 4pm on Friday. Credit: Oliver Lane
One woman was sent to the hospital after the PCYC building collapsed and has since been discharged.
Camera IconOne woman was sent to the hospital after the PCYC building collapsed and has since been discharged. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Bunbury MLA Don Punch said now was the time for the community to band together.

“First and foremost, our thoughts are absolutely with the people who’ve been directly impacted by this traumatic event,” he said.

“This left people unable to go to their homes and it’s caused a lot of anxiety and distress I know for people in our community, but also it affects the people around them.

“I have actually been heartened by the support and concern that’s been expressed by the broader community of Bunbury, whether it’s through social media, or direct contact and reaching out to help support people who are in most need.

“It’s doing what Bunbury does best, looking after our community and looking after people who are vulnerable and have been impacted by this event.”

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