Web_m164013DISASTER hit the South Gippsland Dairy Expo last Thursday morning, shortly before 11am, when a twister ripped through the venue at the Korumburra Showgrounds. With winds gusting at speeds of up to 150km/h, the blast initially brought down the branch of a big Cypress tree near the back of the exhibitor marquees, on the highway side of the oval. And shortly after that, it sent three nearby marquees in a row flying “like kites”, as one person described them, towards the cyclone fence at the rear.

Each of them was destroyed in the mayhem that followed but, thankfully, no one was seriously injured. Five or six people were in the Hico Australia marquee at the time; including Alison Wise, Matt Russell and Riannon Parry with South Gippsland Hico branch manager, Phillip Fourie, just outside, helping the people from the ADF marquee which had also been destroyed. “I was just standing there thinking it’s going to go and then it took off like a kite,” said Matt Russell. “It got caught on the fence behind us which was the only thing that stopped it going out on to the highway and into the traffic. “One minute we were under it, with the rain and wind outside, and the next it was gone. It went up like a kite. “Rhiannon was hit by something and she’s been taken up to the hospital but I think she’ll be OK. “In hindsight, the main thing is that none of us got hurt.”

Hico area manager, Phillip Fourie, echoed those comments later in the day. “I’m just going back down there now to thank all the people who helped us clean up. They were marvellous,” Mr Fourie said. “Even if the marquee and all our display stuff is ruined, we’ve had the very best possible result out of this – we’ve all come home alive,” he said. “The branch could have fallen across one of the marquees or someone could have been hit by flying debris. We’ve been extremely lucky,” he said. It was revealed on the Sentinel-Times Facebook page later, by Rhiannon, that “both me and bubs (I’m 23 weeks pregnant) are home safe after being in Burra hospital for observation.” One of her female co-workers has also hit in the head and is believed to have suffered concussion.

The scene was one of devastation shortly after what event organiser, John Hutchinson, described as a “whirly-gig” hit the expo venue with twisted metal and big sheets of canvass awning flapping madly in the wind and rain on the highway side of the showgrounds. Part of the fallen branch and one of the marquees blocked one side of the South Gippsland Highway and traffic was stopped both ways while the scene was cleared. A machinery operator from Hine Hire, the firm that erects most of the marquees at the expo, was quickly into action, scooping up the debris from the highway and traffic was soon flowing again. Back on the showgrounds, the clean-up continued.

Jamie Jamieson of Traralgon Solar and Gas was devastated. He had just arrived with his transit van and was negotiating with expo organisers to take his marquee down early, because of the building storm, when he saw the tree come down and his new, $5000 marquee nearby completely destroyed. “Five minutes earlier and I would have had it down and been away. It was devastating to see it destroyed like that. “I hope I’m covered by insurance but it was terribly disappointing to see it go when I was so close to getting it down.”

Got out in time
Sally Pate of Browns Fertiliser saw it happen. “I heard it crack and I got the hell out of there,” she said of the tree branch which fell nearby. “We came out and saw the branch on the ground just behind our marquee. It’s lucky it didn’t fall on us. “Then we saw the Hico tent next door lift right off the ground and if it hadn’t got hooked up in the fence it would have blown right across the highway. “It just lifted right off and went,” she said.

Could have been worse
Rob Cosson of Cosson Dairy Systems was in the ADF marquee went it blew away. “It was quite scary really. They’d only just come past and hammered the pegs in again when the storm hit. It was like a twister. “The marquee lifted a bit and came down but then it just flew. The metal structure on the corner just flew at us but thankfully it went over. “It was havoc inside. We were left scrambling around after computers, iPods, mobile phones and all the rest. There was also a compressor in there that was shifted right across the site.” Mr Cosson said the group had hired their marquee this year, deciding not to use a new marquee that they were taking to Elmore next week. “It’s lucky we didn’t use that one, it would have been destroyed. “We’re just happy to be OK. Expo Chairman, Cliff Wallace, was one of the first on the scene, helping to supervise the clean-up. “It’s disappointing to see this,” he said about the damage to exhibitor marquees and also the debris strewn across the highway. “But you can’t control the weather. I’m just happy no one was badly injured.”

Mr Wallace praised the efforts of the marquee contractor for his prompt work in clearing the highway and the damaged marquees, also noting the efforts of others who’d pitched in. Event organiser John Hutchinson called an early finish to the event shortly after lunch on Thursday. “We’ve had some bad weather during the 14 years of the event but this would be by far the worst, and after such a good day yesterday. “It was like a big whirly-gig that went through us. “There are still a few farmers walking around but everyone is packing up early. It’s a bit disappointing but we can also count ourselves very lucky at the same time,” he said.