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'Like a freight train': Couple hid in cupboard while roof was torn off

The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.
The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.

HUDDLED in a cupboard as ferocious winds tore the roof off their home, John and Gail Mossman were scared for their lives.

The Miriam Vale grandparents had little warning as a strong gust of wind ripped through their home on March 30.

That day category four Cyclone Debbie was moving south from Mackay.

At 10.30am, a mini tornado swept through Miriam Vale, tearing off the Mossmans' roof and two others.

Minutes earlier, Gail received a call from her granddaughter Casey warning them to be careful as "there's a big gust of wind coming".

It's one of the lesser- known but equally tragic impacts the tropical cyclone had across Queensland.

 

The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.
The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.

Tears welled in her eyes as Gail recalled the night she and John almost lost everything.

"There was a terrible noise, it was like a freight train," she recalled.

From where they were sitting in the lounge room, Gail quickly guided her husband into the cupboard of the spare room - there was not enough time to find safety downstairs.

"I saw the bathroom roof go, the noise was terrible," she said.

"I went to put the mattress over us but it was too heavy, so I grabbed two pillows."

Sharing their story after trying to come to terms with their loss, Gail said it felt like the tornado lasted hours.

 

The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.
The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.

"I was just screaming ... I text Colin (my son) and said 'Oh my god, the whole house is gone' because that's what it felt like," she said.

"It seemed like a hell of a lifetime we were in there, but then we heard someone sing out from the front 'It's okay Gran and Pa, we're coming'."

It's a reminder of how cruel life can be, with almost the entire roof ripped off the old Queenslander they've called home for so long.

The Miriam Vale property was John's childhood home and in 1976 Gail moved in.

It has been the scene of lifelong memories for their four children and 12grandchildren.

"We would have all 12grandkids around at once and have mattresses spread out over the veranda," Gail said.

 

The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.
The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.

"They'd be feeding the animals, learning how to ride the bikes and loved the tractors."

But what's been equally as strong as the gusts that morning is the community and family support for the couple.

"We had a big crew of about 20 people out at the property ready to help out with the fencing," Gail said.

"The phone's been running hot. I was in my pyjamas till 10.30am one morning because everyone was phoning, asking how they can help."

The Bureau of Meteorology's Sean Fitzgerald said mini tornadoes and wind funnels were common during thunderstorms and tropical cyclones, most often happening on the very edges of storm activity as it swept through.

 

The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.
The roof of Gail and John Mossman's Miriam Vale home was torn off when a mini tornado swept through the small township on March 30.

"On the borders of cyclones you can get thunderstorms that are condusive to the formation of a tornado," he said.

"With the right conditions, (tornadoes) can happen, including high wind sheer, a high dew point and low cloud base."

But the meteorologist said since cyclones typically caused widespread damage, tornadoes and fierce storms on the outer edges were not as publicised.

RACQ insurance officers visited the property within two days of the event, investigating how their home and contents insurance could help get the couple back on the land.

Gail said she couldn't wait to go back.

"It's nice and it's peaceful out there, but it wasn't that night," Gail said.

"I don't think I would be able to live in this zoom, zoom city."

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