PORT Macquarie bears witness to the fact that with the good comes the bad. Mother Nature, it seems, is making that phrase her own over the past few weeks.
Back in February we experienced a weekend of flooding, the fire season arrived early only not long ago and late October we experienced a destructive hailstorm. The super cell arrived without too much warning and dumped varying sized hail across town.
On Tuesday the weather phenomenon which captured our attention was a series of amazing water spouts.
But while these incidents created insurance claims, emergency services callouts, and required quite a bit of clean-up, it was no where near as devastating as a deadly tornado which ripped along Gordon Street in 1962.
Earlier this month the Port News, in conjunction with the Port Macquarie Historical Society, published an account of that tornado. It was taken from "People of the Two Rivers Hastings- Camden Haven. This excerpt is by local historian Richard Grimmond.
His eyewitness account of what began as a waterspout and turned into a mini tornado makes our most recent hailstorm seem inconsequential.
Port Macquarie’s Deadly Tornado - An eyewitness account by Richard Grimmond
It was a dull cloudy day on Monday, July 9, 1962. I was a young teacher at Port Macquarie High School, doing playground supervision, when a group of excited pupils came running up to me calling, “Come and see the waterspout, Sir.”
The school had just moved to the new premises the previous year and there were only three buildings on the grounds - the main classroom block, the manual arts rooms and the canteen - so we had an unobstructed view of the sea over Oxley Beach.
We had seen several waterspouts from the playground during the year but they had always been well out to sea. This one was less than half a mile from the shore. It was a frightening sight.
A huge grey funnel hundreds of feet high connected the sea to the clouds - like a column holding up the sky.
“Sir it’s coming right up the beach!” Like a giant from a genie bottle it seemed to step ashore and walk slowly up Oxley Beach straight towards us. We were conscious of the noise of rushing wind roaring like a fast train.
Then we were hit in the face with wet seaweed and salt water spray as the row of pines at the southern end of Oxley Oval thrashed about like supple saplings, their tops hitting the ground. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My first thought was for the safety of the pupils so I vigorously blew my whistle (all teachers carried one) and hurried them into the shelter of the canteen.
Then suddenly the wind picked up all the bicycles parked outside the woodwork room and threw them at least 10 feet into the air.
I saw a car driving up Pacific Drive towards Burrawan Street, the wind spun it around 180 degrees as if it were on ice.
Then, before our eyes, the roof of the manual arts block started peeling off like silver paper as 20 feet sheets of cliplock were sucked up into the sky and out of sight. I could see by the trail of the swirling, floating debris that the tornado was carving a path of destruction westward through town and it was heading for my house in Home Street (now Chapman Street).
We had recently built a most unconventional house with a butterfly roof so I was very apprehensive how it had fared. My wife told me she had seen it coming and rush past our house like a train. She had locked all the hopper windows.
The house below was hit with the full force of the storm and all hopper windows had kept flying open as fast as the lady shut them. Her plaster ceilings were bowed downwards.
There was a house under construction in Gray Street. My wife watched as it was completely blown apart; there one minute, a column of swirling timber the rest. Fortunately the builder was not there at the time.
The tornado raced up Gordon Street, unroofing buildings and twisting display signs all along the way.
It pulled out a plate glass window from a grocer’s shop and sucked the tinned fruit off the shelves like a giant vacuum cleaner.
Also, in Gordon Street, three men were working on a two-storey residence; the force of the wind collapsed the building on top of them. All three were killed.
The sky over Port Macquarie was thick with litter, swirling and floating high in the air. It appeared to be hundreds of sheets of newspaper but in reality they were sheets of corrugated iron.
A dog that never strayed was found miles away, apparently picked up by the wind.
The tornado cut a path through the bush towards Wauchope snapping off trees like matchwood until, its fury spent, it dissipated.
The frightening tornado that struck that day will never be forgotten by those who experienced its awesome power. It is hoped there will never be another.