Jeff Cowley knows how "indiscriminate and unforgiving" Mother Nature can be and yet, after 23 years in the Fire and Rescue NSW, the havoc wreaked on Armidale by a tornado has shocked him.
Fresh from two days helping out with the multi-agency clean-up, he said the images of rooves torn from their houses won't leave him any time soon.
"Seeing the path that it ran down in North Armidale, I'm simply amazed no-one was killed. Yet there weren't even any severe injuries," he stated.
"I got the call that I could head over to Glen and travel over with their 302 Hazmat Composite," Mr Cowley explained.
"Once we got there, we were divided into teams and got allocated jobs, and went for two days."
The most confronting job for him was to find a single mother with three children who had almost been crushed by their own home.
"The roof had just gone - and we didn't know where," he explained.
"It was quite amazing that she survived."
On Thursday night, the mother was sitting on the lounge with one of her children, when part of the roof caved in. In a mad dash to the other bedrooms, she found her kids with no roof over them at all.
"What still strikes me was that the storm was so indiscriminate. It was so random. One house would have its roof gone, and the one next door had nothing but a broken window."
Eleven homes have since been condemned after they were wrecked in the devastating tornado which struck the city last Thursday, leaving in its wake a four-kometre line of damage. Council crews have assessed over 200 homes for structural damage.
The federal government joined the state government in declaring the incident a natural disaster on Sunday, making Armidale residents whose homes or belongings were damaged eligible for financial support.
Mr Cowley added up all the trampled trampolines flung like toys across the tornado's path. He lost count at 20.
"I think I know what a heap of kids will be getting for Christmas this year!"
Over 400 jobs were reported into the SES. When Mr Cowley left, just 30 remained.
And yet, with extensive support, he was still amazed at how many people "helped themselves", getting straight into repairs once the damaging winds had died down.
"It was a team effort - and it was really interesting to see how all the agencies worked and how they did it all together."
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