The ‘Great Gold Coast Cyclone’ of 1954: 30 dead, 900mm of rain

THE Gold Coast is bracing for the effects of Tropical Cyclone Oma, sixty-five years to the day since the city was lashed by the ‘worst cyclone in living memory’.

The unnamed cyclone is said to have killed up to 30 people when it crossed the coast as a Category Two system at Coolangatta about 10pm on Thursday, February 20 in 1954.

Air pressure dropped to an incredible 973 hPa, while some reports from the Coolangatta/Tweed Heads area had pressure readings to 962 hPa.


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Track map shows the path of the 1954 Great Gold Coast Cyclone | Source: bom.gov.au

The storm was so intense, its widespread damaging impacts were felt from the Sunshine Coast in the north to Sydney in the south.

Commonly referred to as “The Great Gold Coast Cyclone”, the system brought with it destructive winds and almost one metre of rain.

Up to 900mm of rain fell at Springbrook, in the Gold Coast hinterland in the 24 hours leading up to the system making landfall.

Kevin Litfin and Ken Bailey at Main Beach | Photo: George Litfin

George Litfin and Ken Bailey at Main Beach | Photo: George Litfin

Prolonged wind gusts of well over 100km/h battered the region, while beaches were pounded by destructive seas, causing devastating flooding and erosion.

The Gold Coast area in particular suffered widespread structural damage. At the time, the storm was referred to as “the worst in living memory”.

The ocean came ashore and flooded the shopping district of Coolangatta, while powerful waves picked up cars as they crashed onto the highway at Kirra.

The floods combined with a huge storm surge on the Nerang River and caused extensive flooding.

It was reported that up to 50 families needed to be evacuated from the Broadwater, and a mass dramatic rescue was performed to save residents from Macintosh Island which was then being used as farm land.

The Bureau of Meteorology reports flooding, strong winds and storm surges resulted in the deaths of between 26 to 30 people.

Sea foam, debris and erosion at Main Beach | Photo: George Litfin

Homes were left teetering on the edge at Narrowneck in Main Beach | Photo: George Litfin

Meanwhile, boats were found balancing on the tops of trees along the foreshore at Beachmere, north of Brisbane.

The strong storm failed to lose its intensity as it continued on its rare and unusual track deep into New South Wales.

In Byron Bay, a jetty comprising of 22 boats was swept out to sea, while homes were ‘blown apart’ and enormous trees twisted out of the ground around Cudgen.

The cyclone went on to pass inland west of Lismore, where the Richmond River swelled up to 11.3km wide, before eventually weakening as it headed for Sydney.

The Bureau of Meteorology did not begin naming weather systems until 1964.

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