Storms Tear through Eastern Australia; One Death Reported

November 18, 2008

A series of violent storms tore across Australia’s East Coast, sweeping one man down a storm drain to his death, blowing roofs off houses and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of buildings.

Sunday’s storms dumped golf ball-sized hail and torrential rains, causing flash flooding and knocking out power to more than 230,000 homes and businesses along a 112-mile (180-kilometer) stretch of southeast Queensland state coastline. More than 58,000 customers still had no electricity Monday, energy supplier Energex said.

“It looks like there’s been a bomb, a great big bomb go off in all the streets. It’s just terrible,” Brisbane city resident Davina Thomas told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday. “My daughter’s had her roof blown off. It’s in the pool.”

Between 2 and 2 3/4 inches (5 and 7 centimeters) of rain soaked the region, with winds gusting at up to 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour, the Bureau of Meteorology reported.

“The only thing that has been anything like it is Cyclone Larry,” said Queensland state premier Anna Bligh, referring to the category 5 storm that battered Queensland with 180 mph (290 kph) winds two years ago, devastating farming towns and flattening banana and sugar cane plantations.

A 20-year-old man and his 23-year-old friend, who had climbed into a storm drain in Brisbane to photograph the storm Sunday, were sucked downwards when the water suddenly rose. Rescuers were able to yank the older man to safety, but the 20-year-old disappeared in the raging waters. His lifeless body was found hours later, Queensland police spokesman Ben Tracey said.

No other deaths from the storm had been reported Monday, Tracey said.

The state emergency services department reported it received more than 15,000 calls between Sunday evening and early Monday morning, mainly from people whose roofs were damaged by downed trees or strong winds.

“It was just incredibly terrifying,” Brisbane resident Amberlyn Dargrush told ABC radio. “I was scared for my life, my children thought they were going to die.”

In the Outback town of Alice Springs, hundreds of tourists were stranded in a separate weekend storm after some areas saw up to 4 1/2 inches (11.6 centimeters) of rain, which flooded several main roads. Some roads around Alice Springs remained closed on Monday.

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