A mini tornado ripped through a storage shed at Echuca Showground (Victoria, Australia) minutes before a crowd of 1500 arrived for the annual New Year’s Day harness racing.
Strong winds hit the shed at 4.55pm, blowing the roof away and sending timber and sheets of iron flying through the air.
An engineer condemned the building and its roof was torn down while the meeting continued.
Echuca Harness Racing Club chief executive Brad Williams said he was getting changed ahead of the meet when he heard a loud whirring noise.
He walked outside to see timber and sheets of tin flying off the shed’s roof and onto the top of water tanks about 30m away.
About five minutes earlier, Mr Williams had been talking with a Lions Club volunteer manning a nearby gate.
‘‘Luckily he was inside a ute when it happened. Bits of tin hit his ute and he told me if I was standing where I was five minutes earlier I would have been gone,’’ he said.
The tornado struck shortly before a crowd of 1500 were due to arrive for the club’s busiest night of the year and Mr Williams was forced to consider whether to carry on with the meet.
Mr Williams called Echuca’s SES unit.
‘‘Safety was paramount. It was a nervous time, because when the first race was on at 6.25pm the storm was still around,’’ he said.
‘‘I wanted to see if a tarp could be put over the top of the shed, but they quickly said that could not happen,’’ he said.
A Campaspe Shire engineer condemned the building, meaning an excavator was needed to bring the shed’s roof down during the harness meeting.
Mr Williams said the threat of a looming storm was in the back of everyone’s mind.
‘‘I kept one eye on the sky throughout the night. I was not comfortable until after the last race and the crowd was heading home,’’ he said.
Echuca SES unit controller Dean Currey said four members and two Campaspe Shire staff had the roof down by 11.30pm on Tuesday.
He said large timber trusses were used to weigh down loose tin ripped off during the storm.
Mr Currey said he was concerned that reported winds of up to 70km/h would create more safety problems.
‘‘We could not leave it, we could not get into the building and the safety of everyone at the races was paramount,’’ he said.
Mr Currey said SES had to contend with cars parked close to the shed during the night, as well as informing residents living opposite Echuca Showground in Simmie St.
‘‘When it first happened tin was blown about 30m away, we were concerned about the safety of those living across the road if the wind was to pick up again,’’ he said.
Mr Currey said most patrons were understanding of the situation.
He said a mini tornado came through an open door of the shed, blowing the roof away in a powerful gust.
‘‘It was amazing that only this shed was damaged, when there were a couple of others close by that were not touched,’’ he said.
Echuca Show Society is left to count the cost of the damage.
President Peter White said the society used the shed to store equipment.
Mr White said the shed, an old cattle shed, had about $30,000 worth of equipment in it when the storm hit.
‘‘We had things like a mini golf course which we used as entertainment for people at the show inside,’’ he said.
‘‘We will have to wait until we get the all-clear to access the shed before we assess the damage. I am not sure what will happen with insurance.
‘‘It is disappointing for the show society.’’