Friday, November 21, 2008

More storms forescast for SE Qld. *ekkkkkkkkkkk!

Southern and central Queenslanders are bracing for the fourth fierce storm in a devastating week described by Premier Anna Bligh as a "never-ending story".

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast wild winds of up to 90km/h and hail on Friday night, with worse storms to hit on Saturday.

It predicts Friday's storm will affect areas from Emerald in central Queensland to the Gold Coast.

The systems will move north on Saturday to stretch from Barcaldine to Brisbane.

Thunderstorms that have pounded south-east Queensland for nearly a week - inflicting hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and claiming two lives - swept inland on Thursday night, unleashing its fury on Blackwater, 290km west of Rockhampton.

The mining township, with a population of around 5,000, has been declared the state's 13th natural disaster area.

Many locals reported hailstones nearly 18 centimetres in diameter.

Blackwater resident Merv Gibson said the storm lasted about an hour.

"I was near the car and next thing an 'F 111' went over the top - and that was my roof," he said.

When local MP Vaughan Johnson drove through the storm, his rear window and mirrors were shattered.

"The car was rocking - it was like about 10 big fellas rocking the car," he said.

Emergency services crews in the township responded to nearly 100 calls for help.

The Queensland premier flew into the town early on Friday morning and was stunned by the trail of destruction.

Twisted iron and uprooted trees were everywhere, scores of cars and houses had shattered windows while there were gaping holes the size of dinner plates in roofs and walls.

"It must have been terrifying for the people," said Ms Bligh.

"The hailstones were of an extraordinary size.

"We're very lucky that we didn't see any damage to people or loss of life."

The Darling Downs town of Warwick also suffered extensive storm damage on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, some 80,000 homes in the state's south-east lost power with Energex recording 90,000 lightning strikes.

Brisbane suburbs devastated by the storms on Sunday and Wednesday, such as Paddington, Red Hill, Ashgrove, Arana Hills and Everton Park, again suffered damage.

This included fallen powerlines, trees and branches blown onto powerlines, and water seeping into underground cables, Energex said.

The Scarborough Bay Hotel on Brisbane's bayside was extensively damaged.

Ms Bligh said she'd been talking to the federal government about financial assistance for the clean-up.

She said the Queensland government had deferred a proposed mid-year budget review to mid-December - the budget contingency of $10-$20 million would be inadequate.

"This is going to have a very high recovery bill and it will have an impact on a budget that is already under pressure," she said.

"We are in for a rocky summer," she said.

"Like everyone here in Queensland, I'm beginning to wonder when it will end."

She paid tribute to emergency workers, some of whom were taking their first break after four days of relentless work in difficult conditions.

"I hope Mother Nature is a bit kinder to us than she has been in the past few days," she said.

"It's starting to feel like the never-ending story."

Emergency Management Queensland deputy executive director Bruce Grady said Saturday's storm would bring stronger, gusty winds.

Residents should take precautions, including heeding weather alerts, trimming trees, securing loose items, preparing an emergency kit and covering any debris from previous storms.

"If they are concerned about current damage and what that might mean in a storm we would encourage them to move to family and friends," Mr Grady told AAP.

He said there were specific concerns about the safety of 14,000 Year 12 students finishing school on Friday, and heading into the traditional schoolies celebrations on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.

"Having that many young people concentrating on things other than storms is a concern," he said.

"As storms approach we would encourage people to stay indoors - that's the safest place.

"It's a small price to pay to lose one or two days out of your schoolies week."

Meanwhile, two of Queensland's largest energy suppliers are offering financial relief to residents affected by storms which have battered the region since Sunday night.

AGL and Origin are offering payment plans for storm affected customers to help with financial difficulties as they face the rebuilding process.

AGL is waiving all contract termination, disconnection and reconnection fees for storm affected residents.

Origin is asking its storm-affected customers to contact them to discuss payment arrangements on a case by case basis.

Energy Ombudsman Barry Adams encouraged all storm-affected residents to contact their energy supplier for assistance and was satisfied with the assistance already offered by AGL and Origin.

"Recognising the severe hardship people are facing to rebuild their homes and their lives, I am pleased to say two of Queensland's largest energy retailers are showing compassion when it comes to electricity and gas accounts," he said.

Mr Adams said any residents unable to receive the help needed from their energy retailer should contact Energy Ombudsman Queensland on 1800 662 837 or email

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