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'Hazmat emergency' over Bunbury tornado asbestos exposure

Rachael WardAAP
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A devastating tornado has left asbestos scattered in residential streets in WA's southwest. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconA devastating tornado has left asbestos scattered in residential streets in WA's southwest. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Asbestos scattered over residential streets has prompted a “hazmat emergency” response in Western Australia’s southwest, with specialist crews urgently working to contain any possible exposure following a devastating tornado.

More than 100 homes were damaged when the tornado ripped off roofs, collapsed walls and sucked up debris into the sky at Bunbury on Friday afternoon.

The town’s prison, a sporting centre, other community buildings and infrastructure were badly damaged but no one was seriously injured.

Seven homes have so far been declared uninhabitable and seven others were severely impacted but that number is expected to rise as crews finish assessing the scale of the damage.

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Residents living in three blocks have been told to stay away from their homes due to asbestos contamination fears near the Hay Park Sports Complex.

WA Premier Roger Cook said there was “a lot of asbestos in the streets”.

“We’ve got specialist teams on the ground as we speak trying to clean that up but there are exclusion zones which ensures that we can secure the public’s safety,” Mr Cook told reporters on Sunday.

Authorities have focused their efforts on containing the “hazmat emergency” and are now turning their attention to recovery, Department of Fire and Emergency Services Acting Commissioner Melissa Pexton said.

Specialist contractors have been hired to sweep impacted streets in an effort to reduce the size of the exclusion zone.

“We are hopeful that in the next two to three days we will have that finalised and we’re very comfortable with the progress that’s being made, we’ll definitely keep the community up to date,” she said.

Nine people are booked into emergency accommodation and Bunbury locals will gather at a community meeting on Sunday afternoon to discuss what other services are needed.

Residents who had been living in the 14 uninhabitable or severely damaged homes are eligible for $4000 in emergency payments from the state government while others impacted by the tornado can access up to $2000 to pay for food, clothing and accommodation.

More than 500 Western Power customers remain without electricity and anyone impacted by an outage longer than 12 hours can apply for $120 payments to replace spoilt food and other items.

Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson estimated the damage bill would be “in the millions of dollars” but said it was too early to confirm the extent of the damage.

There had been no evidence of looting, particularly in the exclusion zone as there are many workers in the area, he said.

The town’s high school and primary school have been declared safe and will open on Monday.

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