Sydney hail storm
14 April 1999
At around 7:45pm on April 14 1999 a torrential hailstorm hit Sydney's inner and eastern suburbs, damaging thousands of homes and cars.
Hailstones the size of cricket balls hit the city at more than 200 kilometres per hour, leaving a damage bill in excess of $1.5 billion.
The NSW Fire Brigades (NSWFB) Sydney Communication Centre was inundated with 000 calls from distressed residents, reporting roofs destroyed, flooding, collapsed ceilings and electrical fires.
Over the first five hours, 2000 emergency calls were taken, at a rate of one call every 10 seconds, to 1092 separate incidents.
Within hours of the storm hitting, the affected suburbs were declared disaster areas and the Government invoked a State of Emergency, giving full control of the incident to the State Emergency Service (SES).
The emergency services were quick to respond to the disaster. Under the strategic direction of the SES, the joint emergency services' response to the hailstorm included the:
- NSW Fire Brigades
- ACT Fire Brigade
- Volunteer Rescue Association
- NSW Ambulance Service
- NSW Police Rescue
- Rural Fire Service
- Victorian SES
- National Parks and Wildlife Service
The NSW Fire Brigades was called in to support the hailstorm clean-up on 14 April, committing 700 firefighters and 130 appliances a day, making it the largest single event in the history of our organisation.
Off-duty platoons were recalled and country firefighters from across the State left their homes and families to help residents in storm-affected suburbs.
A Major Incident Coordination Centre (MICC) was activated in Alexandria at our State Fire Command Centre. The MICC was first activated during the 1997 Thredbo landslide disaster and again during the 1997 Menai bushfire crisis.
On Wednesday, 21 April 1999, the storm affected suburbs were divided into three areas. The NSW Fire Brigades was given responsibility for all operations in four local government areas - City of Sydney, South Sydney, Woollahra and Waverly.
The NSW Fire Brigades was the only emergency service equipped with specialist aerial appliances and a large number of personnel trained in high angle rescue. Throughout the hailstorm operation we were responsible for all multi-storey (buildings over two levels) work.
Where buildings were inaccessible by aerial appliances, high angle rescue teams entered from the top of the building.
An Air Operations Division was activated by the NSW Fire Brigades on 21 April, using the services of the NSW Police and the National Parks and Wildlife Services helicopters.
Helicopters were used to conduct systematic flyovers of the disaster area, enabling aerial photographs and observations to be undertaken. Up to six reconnaissance flights were made each day over storm affected suburbs.
This played a key role in damage assessment and the identification of roofs that had sustained serious damage, not visible from the ground.
Business as usual
During the hailstorm operation, fire, rescue and hazardous material cover was maintained across the State. Our fire crews continued to respond to major emergencies including a major commitment of firefighters and Hazmat personnel to the Newcastle chicken disaster, a fire and explosion at BHP Newcastle steel works and a train fire in the underground tunnel at Redfern.
Operations scaled down
On May 6 1999 involvement of the NSW Fire Brigades was scaled down from five to two divisions. We maintained our high-rise response role and continued to patrol storm affected areas as required.