A TERRIFIED mother scrambled over her mangled roof after it caved in on the loungeroom floor to check on her children after a tornado ripped through Armidale.
Tammie Munsie was watching television when the roof was ripped off her house "in an instant" when a freak tornado struck the NSW Northern Tablelands town about 10pm on Thursday.
One of her children had his bedroom window shatter over him, the other opened his eyes in bed to find himself watching lightning strikes split the night sky.
The Munsie family were forced to abandon their home, all of their possessions and their flipped and crushed car, for the safety of a friend's place in the aftermath of the tornado.
"We heard the loud hail happening outside and then all of a sudden we heard a loud whooshing noise, next minute the roof is gone and part of it had collapsed into the lounge room," Ms Munsie said.
Despite the devastation, the Armidale mother said she felt lucky her children weren't hurt.
"We actually felt really scared," she said. "I had two other children down the other end of the house in bed so we actually had to climb over and under parts of the roof that had caved in to get up the other end of the house to see if my two younger kids were okay."
Ms Munsie said it was one of the most terrifying things she had experienced - and it was all over in a few minutes.
Her neighbours and the surrounding suburban streets of North Hill were some of the worst hit areas on what they described as the worst night possible - garbage bin collection night.
"We had eight bins in the front yard and all of the rubbish with it," Bob Flint said on Friday.
He barely knew how they got there though, in such a state of shock that he doesn't remember the calm that came after the storm.
"Actually I have no idea because I was so scared," he said.
"Waiting for the hail storm was bad enough ... but then it went really still and that's when you could hear a noise like a jet, which was the tornado.
"I was just standing in the middle of the room observing the noises."
It started with a severe thunderstorm, then came the dumping of hail, and the swift yet devastating tornado, before ending with the stars coming out not long after confused and scared residents did too, trying to make sense of the madness.
We were just cowering in the hallway and I was just screaming.Lisa Jackson
"We were just cowering in the hallway and I was just screaming," resident Lisa Jackson said.
"The noise, honestly I have never experienced anything like that, it was absolutely unbelievable.
"Afterwards, the night was absolutely beautiful, the stars were out and it was just still and beautiful."
Neighbours came together to support each other - either already friends or united by disaster - and helped to clear, with reports chainsaws and trucks could be heard firing up in the early hours.
Any hands on deck were welcome as the State Emergency Service (SES) sorted through more than 220 calls for help.
Two people were urgently rescued from where they became trapped in their home after the tornado, while most other call outs were for damage to homes, cars and powerlines down.
SES Armidale deputy incident controller Jock Campbell saidfire and rescue strike force teams, police and out of area SES crews had been working tirelessly through Friday.
"We are literally throwing everything at it," he said.
No one was reported seriously injured.
The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed it was a tornado that tore through Armidale.
Tornadoes aren't uncommon in Australia, especially in late spring and summer, and form in severe thunderstorms when there are intense winds that turn and strengthen with height.
These conditions combine to produce the recognisable rotating column of wind, which residents witnessed approach Armidale as the lightning illuminated the sky on Thursday night.
Adam Marshall MP has contacted the Minister for Emergency Services about a disaster declaration for the area.
Thousands of homes were without power in the city and businesses are also affected.
Essential Energy sent extra crews from Tenterfield, Guyra, Walcha, Glen Innes, Tamworth and Inverell to assist with repairs.
Electricity was expected to be restored to around 1000 residents by late on Friday, but almost 500 residents would still without power overnight.
"We'd like to take this opportunity to thank the community for their patience," a spokesperson said.
The University of New England (UNE) campus could be closed until at least Wednesday.
Council issued an emergency water conservation order after the power supply to the treatment plant was damaged but it was fixed on Friday.
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