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The Cobden and Greymouth fire brigades were called just after 5pm and worked for more than two hours on the clean-up.
Cobden Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Kirk Gillam said about 10 properties were affected, mostly in the Richmond and Wickes Sts area along the northeastern fringe of Cobden, close to the Twelve Apostles Range.
Two houses were "reasonably damaged" and one was evacuated for the night.
"The residents reckoned it was a small tornado. It looks like it came up the back of the paddocks and down through the back of the properties and up to the gun emplacement [on the hillside]," Mr Gillam said.
Loose sheets of tin caught in the wind had caused a lot of damage, he said.
The worst-hit house is known for its past Christmas displays, and resident Kathy Anderson was at home with a visitor, her two dogs and pet birds when the tornado struck.
Mrs Anderson was too distraught to speak yesterday, but her daughter Shirlene McMillan, helping with the clean-up, described how events unfolded.
"We were at home in nearby Baillie Pl and we heard this noise — we thought it was a truck. Then Mum called and said ‘did you get any damage? I think a tornado has come through ...’
"I rang 111 straight away and went to Mum’s. There were wires all over the road, so we stopped people coming through while the fire brigade ascertained they were just phone lines, and then they cut the power and water to Mum’s house and got her out for the night.
"A neighbour in Wickes St called to say they had seen part of Mum’s house fly away, and a few other houses lost parts of roofs — that’s the nature of the old state houses," Ms McMillan said.
"Fortunately, the rain held off overnight. It’s been so still since it happened — hopefully, it will stay like this until we can get a tarpaulin over [the damaged roof]."
It is understood another house lost several windows that had been stacked for renovations, and others suffered minor damage.
Dave Lyons, who has lived in Hall St for 28 years, witnessed the whirlwind’s approach from his porch step.
He saw three or four sheets of iron flying towards him across the paddocks from the direction of Firth St, he said.
"It was coming straight at my house and I stepped back into my porch and then it turned direction and was heading up Hall St towards Wickes St." — Greymouth Star
By Meg Fulford