One year later: The wild storm that smashed township

A YEAR ago, every avocado on John Atkinson's farm was dead, destroyed by the hail that struck his crop during a terrifying storm that ripped through the small Fraser Coast township of Yengarie.

Looking out into their yard, one could have been forgiven for thinking they had been hit by a snowstorm.

But it was the middle of spring and it wasn't snow - damaging hail had dropped out of the sky.

Yengarie storm damage one year on - farmer John Atkinson with his avocado trees starting to bear fruit after they were stripped bare 12 months earlier.
Yengarie storm damage one year on - farmer John Atkinson with his avocado trees starting to bear fruit after they were stripped bare 12 months earlier. Alistair Brightman

Mr Atkinson and his wife Marcia estimate the damage caused to their farm, including the roof of their home, was worth about $200,000.

Thankfully the couple was fully insured, but the damage done to their Yengarie farm on Old Mill Rd during the storm was considerable.

They lost half their cane crop, a quarter of the pineapple crop and their entire avocado crop.

Damage from severe storm which hit parts of the Fraser Coast - Yengarie farmer Steve Miller amongst the avocado trees stripped bare by the hail and wind.
Damage from severe storm which hit parts of the Fraser Coast - Yengarie farmer Steve Miller amongst the avocado trees stripped bare by the hail and wind. Alistair Brightman

Inside the home, the windows were smashed as the hail started falling.

"It came flying through the window into the lounge and kitchen," Mr Atkinson said.

"The hail was like someone throwing hand-fulls of stones at you.

"In 88 years, I've never seen anything like it.

"You'd have to see it to believe it."

Walking along the fence line, Mr Atkinson noticed dead birds everywhere.

"They didn't have anywhere to go I suppose," he said.

The hail had killed the animals.

"It wasn't that the hail stones were so big, but there was so many of them," he said.

"They just covered the ground and took every leaf off the avocado trees."

Nearby, the trees had also been stripped of their leaves.

"In the forest, the trees were just bare, like a fire had been through them," Mr Atkinson said."They are growing back now, there are some new branches, but it looks a bit funny, a bit weird."

Forced into hiding

HIDING behind the couch at their Yengarie farm as wind and hail pummelled their home, Lyn and Richard Dunning ducked to avoid the flying glass.

Moments before it had been a quiet Thursday afternoon and they had been planning to sit down and watch a movie.

But 10 minutes later, their property was left with more than $200,000 worth of damage and the couple were thankful to still be alive.

One year ago, what could only be described as a supercell hail storm hit the small farming community, damaging roofs, ripping apart sheds, writing off cars and killing crops and animals.

Yengarie storm damage one year on - Lyn Dunning with her new shed.
Yengarie storm damage one year on - Lyn Dunning with her new shed. Alistair Brightman

Twelve months later, much has been repaired and rebuilt, but the trauma of that day remains.

Ms Dunniing remembers emerging from her home and being stunned by the damage she saw.

"The shed was destroyed," she said.

"It was just a tangled mess, like a giant had just picked it up and twisted it and threw the roof over in the paddock.

"It came through our place and busted the windows - we had hail on our bed."

A year on, the insurance has come through.

There's a new shed on the property, repairs have been made, five cars damaged by the storm were written off and replaced.

But signs of that day still remain.

After the storm - Yengarie farm owner Lyn Dunning in whats left of their farm shed.
After the storm - Yengarie farm owner Lyn Dunning in whats left of their farm shed. Alistair Brightman

"The trees haven't really recovered," Ms Dunning said.

"They were absolutely bare, like a nuclear explosion."

She remembers the moment leading up to the storm clearly.

Ms Dunning received a phone call telling her a storm was approaching.

She put the cars in the shed, not realising that even that simple action would prove futile against what was approaching.

She checked on her grandchildren in the other house on the property.

Ms Dunning looked up and noticed the menacing clouds in the sky were tinged green.

A second later, a pine tree snapped in front of her and she realised she needed to get inside.

As she cowered behind the couch in the living room, one of the kitchen windows blew out, followed by the bedroom windows. Then the panel of the glass door behind her husband blew out as well. He managed to duck in time to avoid being cut.

"We were sheltering in the living room behind the lounge," she said.

"Otherwise we would have been cut to shreds."

Ms Dunning would still find pieces of glass on her floor for months after that day. Still, she feels lucky.

"No one was killed, no one was maimed," she said.

"It's amazing no one was killed."

After the storm, the family were in darkness for a week.

Powerlines were down everywhere, as well as kilometres of fencing.

One of the family's miniature horses had been picked up by the wind and was killed in the storm.

"It was terrible," Ms Dunning said.

At a nearby home, two small children were screaming in terror.

Children were screaming

AT MAHONEY Close, Jeremiah Knight, his wife and their two kids were sheltering in a walk-in wardrobe.

First they had tried hiding in the bathroom, but they soon realised the storm was approaching from that side of the house and they could see debris flying by.

"The kids were screaming," Mr Knight said.

"But I could hardly hear, it was really noisy. We were all huddled together. I thought the house was going to go, the whole house was shaking."

After the storm - Mahoney Close, Yengarie resident Jeremiah Knight, wife Kimberley and 1 yr old daughter Willow with damage to the back of their house.
After the storm - Mahoney Close, Yengarie resident Jeremiah Knight, wife Kimberley and 1 yr old daughter Willow with damage to the back of their house. Alistair Brightman

Mr Knight had received a phone call about a possible tornado just seconds before the storm hit, but had little time to prepare other than putting his cars under cover. His son Dusty, only five at the time, looked at his dad and asked "are we going to survive this?"

Mr Knight didn't know what to say.

"I felt really helpless," he said.

"We were at the mercy of the storm. I'd been through some good hail storms, but nothing like that."

The storm lasted about 10 minutes, but it felt longer, Mr Knight said.

When they walked outside to look at the damage, the family was shocked by what they saw. A tree had fallen on the back of their home.

"Everything we'd worked for, it felt like it had been destroyed," Mr Knight said.

"We built our home ourselves, we had the gardens all nice, but the trees were stripped back to bare. Six trees were snapped in half.

"It was really devastating."

Mr Knight said the damage bill was well over $120,000, but thankfully the couple had insurance.

"It would have just destroyed us otherwise," he said.

Even now, if a storm approaches the property, the family gets nervous.

After a dry year, they wouldn't mind seeing some rain but they don't want to be confronted by a storm of that magnitude again.

"We're praying for rain, we just don't want a big storm like that," Mr Knight said.

Yengarie storm damage one year on - Jeremiah Knight and 2 yr old Willow next to a gum tree in his backyard still showing the hail damage scars.
Yengarie storm damage one year on - Jeremiah Knight and 2 yr old Willow next to a gum tree in his backyard still showing the hail damage scars. Alistair Brightman

"It was like a freight train coming through the house.

"It's hard to describe the noise."

With fences wiped out and trees down, there was a lot of work to be done. Mr Knight and his two older sons had hours of work ahead of them, cutting up trees and putting the wood into piles.

"We ended up burning them all," he said.

The State Emergency Service assisted the family, including removing the tree from the roof.

"It was really good to have a bit of help," Mr Knight said.

While the family hopes they never have to encounter a storm like that again, he says if it happened again, they would be more prepared.

The family has installed another water tank.

They have also invested in a generator after the storm left them in the dark for days.



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