By Kathryn Armstrong
At least 10 people, including a nine-year-old girl, have died in eastern Australia during severe thunderstorms on Christmas and Boxing Day.
Most of the deaths were in the state of Queensland, where tens of thousands of people are still without power.
Victoria and New South Wales were also hit by widespread flooding and destructive winds.
Further thunderstorms have been forecast but conditions are expected to improve over the next day.
The winds were so strong in places, they tore roofs off buildings, felled trees and ripped concrete-based electricity poles from the ground.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever had a concrete power pole destroyed by a storm, that’s pretty significant. That’s unprecedented,” said Queensland Premier Steven Miles.
Residents in parts of New South Wales and South Australia were shocked to find hailstones the size of golf balls blanketing their lawns in summer.
“I haven’t seen anything like this in probably the 20 years I’ve lived in the town,” a resident of Melrose in South Australia told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The latest storms come more than a week after major floods inundated parts of Queensland during Cyclone Jasper – with some areas experiencing more than a year’s worth of rain in just a few days.
Mr Miles said the cost of damage from both storms could run into the billions.
They follow a series of heatwaves that have seen states including New South Wales battling bushfires recently.
The country is currently enduring an El Nino weather event, which is typically associated with extreme events such as wildfires and cyclones.
“When you start to piece together the experiences of this summer so far it is clear that we are living through an era of escalating climate consequences,” Simon Bradshaw, research director at the Climate Council – an independent communications organisation – told the Reuters news agency.
Australia has been plagued by a series of disasters in recent years – severe drought and bushfires, successive years of record floods, and six mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef.
A future of worsening disasters is likely unless urgent action is taken to halt climate change, the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns.
Among the 10 people killed in the extreme weather over Christmas and Boxing Day was a girl, named in local media as nine-year-old Mia Holland-McCormack, whose body was found in a flooded storm drain after she went missing.
“Mia loved adventures and getting up to mischief,” reads a statement from a relative on a GoFundMe fundraising page set up to help Mia’s family following her death.
Three men drowned after a yacht capsized near Moreton Bay, off the coast of the city of Cairns. A further eight people had to be rescued from the water.
A man whose body was found in Victoria’s Gippsland region is thought to have been camping with a woman who was also killed.
Two women were found dead north of Brisbane after being swept away by floodwaters into a storm drain, while a further two people were killed after being hit by falling trees.