by Geoff Wilkinson
An elderly couple were killed when their car was picked up by a 300 kmh tornado that smashed through the tiny farming hamlet of Sandon at the weekend.
They were sucked out of the car as the twister bowled it along the road for more than 100 metres.
Killed were Stanley James Warren, 64, and his wife Alma Jean, 65, of Montgomery Cres., Bendigo.
The force of the killer wind sucked Mrs. Warren out of her fastened seat belt, and stripped the couple of their clothes as they were hurled out of the car.
The Warrens' pet dog, which was between them in the front seat, had still not been found late yesterday.
Eight people in two other cars that were parked with the Warrens on the side of the Newstead-Ballarat road, escaped unhurt.
Sandon has a population of about 55. It is 10 km. south-west of Newstead, and about 130 km. north-west of Melbourne.
The tornado caused an estimated $100,000 damage to one farm in its 6 km. path.
It cut through farmland on a 400-metre wide front when it hit at 5.30 p.m. on Saturday.
Thirty-metre red gums were thrown about like matchsticks. Haysheds and windmills were flattened and animals were swept away.
Police said yesterday there "could have been another Darwin" if the tornado had hit a more populated area.
An investigation team from the Weather Bureau was sent to Sandon yesterday.
A bureau spokesman said last night that it was "fairly rare" for tornadoes to hit a populated area, and they were reported in south-eastern Australia on an average of once every two years.
A Sandon farmer's wife, Mrs. Janet Beaves, took this picture of the tornado from the veranda of her home late on Saturday afternoon.
"It was coming towards us, then it suddenly turned away," she said.
"It was a classic tornado shape - like an ice-cream cone."
Mr. and Mrs. Warren were parked in the middle of a line of three cars that had stopped beside the road when the drivers saw the tornado on top of a hill.
Their light Torana sedan was picked up and bowled along the road like a toy. The two heavier cars - a Falcon and a Fairlane - rocked and swayed but did not lift off the ground.
Every window in the front car was shattered, and about $2000 damaged was caused to the $10,000 near-new car behind the Warrens.
The tornado then moved up the Yandoit Rd. and devastated the farm of Ted Culvenor.
Mr. Culvenor, 63, his wife, Hilda, 58, and their daughter, Debbie, 15, hid under beds as the tornado ripped their house "like a giant vacuum cleaner."
"It took so long to get to us that we had the fear of the devil up us before it even got here," Mr. Culvenor said.
"I watched it sitting on top of the hill for what seemed like a quarter of an hour, and it was mowing trees down like grass in front of a mower.
"I got Debbie under one bed with me, because she's always been frightened of thunder.
"When it hit us there was this terrific whine, and we could hear glass and things ripping everywhere.
"Even after it had passed we still had a terrific fear, because the clouds were black and we thought it might come back."
The wind flattened a shed holding about 300 chickens, lifted a full 1364-litre oil tank off its stand and speared a 7.6 cm. branch through a tractor tyre in the middle of a treeless paddock.
Mr. Culvenor said that despite the $100,000 damage to his farm, the family had "a lot to be thankful for".
After passing the Culvenor's house the tornado moved up the Yandoit road about 4 km. until it veered off and blew itself out in thick forest.
Dozens of fallen red gums were still blocking the road yesterday.
The MLA for Midlands, Mr. Bill Ebery, has a property only a few kilometres from the path of the tornado and watched its progress from his home.
"There were sheets of iron snaking all over the place, 70 metres up in the air, and limbs of trees were racing across the sky at 200 mph (320 kmh)," Mr. Ebery said.
Women tell of terror chase by tornado
Four women huddled over two small boys as a tornado ripped through their car at Sandon on Saturday.
An elderly couple sitting in a car parked behind them on the Newstead-Ballarat road were swept away and killed.
The women told yesterday of the tornado that "chased" their car.
Mrs. Judy Streeter, of Maldon, said the tornado "looked like an enormous black cloud".
"It was like a fire, and it kept following us along the top of a ridge as I drove along the road," she said.
"We could feel the wind building up, and then as I stopped it stopped.
"The next thing it turned and you could see it coming straight for us - it was almost as if it was meant to get us.
"It was like a big funnel, full of stones and dust and hay.
"The wind was roaring, and there were trees snapping off like matchsticks and pieces of tin zooming past the car.
"Then there was a great explosion, and every window shattered.
"I thought we'd all be killed, and I remember wondering what it's like to die."
Her sister, Mrs. Winifred Pratt, who is five months pregnant, was sitting in the back seat and saw the elderly couple in the Torana behind them.
"I looked around at them, and the man was beckoning and telling us to put our hands up on the windscreen. Just as Judy did it the windows all smashed," Mrs. Pratt said.
"I turned around and saw their car lift off the road but then I ducked down to cover the boy.
"When it was over we looked around behind us for the Torana and it was just gone.
"It finished up right down the road, and those poor people were thrown out and their clothes were stripped off."
Her mother, Mrs. Joyce Cattlin, said: "We were calling each other's names to see if we were alive.
"It was so quiet in the back I thought they were dead for sure."
The other woman in the car was a family friend, Mrs. Margaret Gatti. The two boys were Mrs. Streeter's on Jamie, 6, and his friend, Jason Saint, 8.
All six suffered only minor scratches.
THE TORANA WHEN FOUND
COLOUR PHOTO OF STORM AND WALLCLOUD