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Freak storm hits Australian city

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Reuters) -- The worst thunderstorm in a century hit Australia's second largest city of Melbourne on Wednesday, forcing firemen to use boats to rescue people stranded on top of cars and roofs.

More than 100 millimeters (four inches) of rain was recorded in two hours in some suburbs in the early hours of Wednesday while a major freeway in the east of the city was hit by flashfloods.

Melbourne (Australia)

Severe hailstorms damaged cars, uprooted trees and flooded homes in several suburbs. There were no reports of injuries.

"This is a once in 100 year event," Melbourne Weather Bureau forecaster Dean Stewart told reporters.

The bureau's senior forecaster, Ken Dickenson, described the storm as "freakish".

The Victorian State Emergency Service responded to more than 1,000 calls for assistance. Under one city bridge, 10 people were forced onto the top of their cars as chest-high water cascaded past their vehicles.

"We've got a lot of flooding, we've got trees coming down and we've got a lot of houses flooded and ceilings collapsed," emergency services officer Danny May said

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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