The destructive hailstorm that tore through the national capital damaging cars and property yesterday has been labelled a “catastrophe”.
- Hail as big as golf balls blanketed Canberra on Monday
- Damage to cars, windows and buildings is extensive, with more than 1,900 calls for help to emergency services and 15,000 insurance claims already lodged
- The CSIRO was among the worst-hit institutions, with 65 glasshouses damaged and years of research lost
The ACT Emergency Services Agency received a record number of more than 1,900 calls for help when the storm swept through, taking out power to more than 1,000 homes across the territory.
Campbell Fuller from the Insurance Council of Australia said the storm had been declared a “catastrophe”, and confirmed nearly 11,000 claims had been lodged in the ACT and Queanbeyan so far.
This declaration means insurance claims will be expedited.
“The insurance council’s catastrophe declaration means those claims are prioritised by insurers, so insurers will be looking at how best to help those customers and help them as quickly as possible,” Mr Fuller said.
“It is certainly a very angry summer and we’re not even midway through the disaster season yet.”
A further 4,000 claims were lodged from yesterday’s storm in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, and 3,000 from Melbourne’s Sunday night storm.
Cars damaged, institutions closed
Throughout Canberra, cars still line the streets in areas where the storm had been most ferocious, prompting lenience overnight from the ACT Government’s parking inspectors.
Car windows smashed at library by hail
“Access Canberra is aware that [the] thunderstorm and hail activity has led to a large number of damaged vehicles remaining in government-controlled car parks and roadside parking,” a statement from the department said.
“We understand that due to the number of vehicles impacted by the weather event that removal of vehicles, such as getting them towed, may take some time and an understanding approach will be taken.”
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) was among the institutions hit worst, with large holes seen in the roofs of a number of their glasshouses where experiments were underway.
Chief operating officer Judi Zielke said the storm damaged about 65 of their glasshouses, destroying years of research.
“We’re very fortunate that none of our staff were hurt,” Ms Zielke said.
“Those 65 glasshouses of course held a lot of research and we’re really feeling for our scientists at the moment that are so dedicated to their work and have spent years working on some of the projects in there.
“Unfortunately, most of those projects will be totally lost.”
The vast majority of the work being conducted at the CSIRO was aimed at improving crop sustainability and researchers had been growing wheat, barley, legumes and cotton in the damaged glasshouses.
Many of these projects had been underway for more than two years.
“[They were] largely focused on environmental research — how to reduce the amount of water, chemical and fertiliser use,” Ms Zielke said.
“For projects that potentially might have been close to the end of say two or three years work, that is really distressing.
“But I’m sure we’ll overcome and continue to improve our work going forward, but it is a great loss, and of course not just to CSIRO but also the companies and farmers involved in those projects.”
Meanwhile, all areas of the Australian National Botanic Gardens are closed today due to storm damage.
The National Museum of Australia closed immediately following the storm, but reopened this morning with restricted access to some areas.
The Australian National University’s main campus is also closed today, with “non-essential staff” directed to stay home as the extent of the damage to several buildings was assessed.
It came after the university was forced to close for a number of days earlier in the month due to poor air quality from bushfire smoke.
Wildlife injured during storm
Peter Beutel from the National Capital Authority said hundreds of animals in the Parliamentary Triangle perished during the storm, which saw golf ball-sized hail stones and strong winds tear through the city.
“We lost pigeons, peewees, baby magpies, galahs, possums, we took a swan to the vet yesterday,” he said.
“The animal toll is extraordinary.”
Mr Beutel also said over 300 flying foxes — which are a protected species — died during the storm.
“We took five binloads of grey-headed flying fox from Commonwealth Park,” he said.
“The people from the Wildlife ACT have been taking as many [surviving ones] as they can.
“Unfortunately the bats were already stressed due to the drought, so they’re full up. They’re taking a shipment to Wollongong, just to spread the load.
“It’s very distressing.”
Private property damage still being assessed
Late on Monday, many people were still waiting for the State Emergency Service (SES) to visit their homes, where the giant hailstones had damaged roofs and caused flooding.
About 300 workers, assisted by the Australian Defence Force and ACT Fire and Rescue, responded to calls for help through the afternoon and into the evening, but many locals are still waiting for assistance.
SES Acting Chief Officer Jeff Butler said they are mostly plugging roofs, boarding over windows and clearing trees.
“We are fairly optimistic we’ll be able to get over this over the next couple of days,” he said.
“We’ve spent most of the night going through the jobs trying to come up with a priority list of what we need to start knocking over today.
“We’re getting extra teams out in the field today we’re going to try to get teams out 24 hours a day for the next couple of days.”
In Belconnen, Christine Stevens was at home when the storm struck.
Her house, two cars and vegetable garden were all damaged.
At 6:30pm she was still waiting on emergency services to come to her home and fix her roof, where water had leaked through and damaged light fittings.
hail winter wonderland
“I was scared, I can tell you,” she said.
“I rang SES straight away and they said they’ll get here when they can.”
Ms Stevens said she was hoping one of the cars, which had stopped working since the storm, would recover from what she suspected was water damage.
In the meantime, she was hoping the rain would hold off until her roof was assessed.
“In the short-term, I hope they can put up a bit of tarp or something,” she said.