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Mini-tornado rips through Australian city

A devastating "mini-tornado" tore through the Australian city of Townsville on Tuesday, ripping roofs off houses, flipping cars and bringing down powerlines, officials and witnesses said.

The Queensland State Emergency Service said it had received dozens of calls for help, with authorities trying to determine whether anyone had been injured.

"Early this morning a mini-tornado tore through the suburb of Vincent resulting in 25 to 30 houses being damaged. Some have lost their roofs," a spokeswoman told.

"There is reportedly severe damage to the power system and an incident control centre is being set up by the police and fire and rescue services."

Sky News said winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour were recorded with thousands of homes without power. One resident told the broadcaster the tornado sounded like "a jet taking off".

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said authorities were attempting to get a helicopter to fly over the area and assess the damage, which is believed to have affected an area with a one kilometre radius.

"It appears to be something akin to a mini-tornado. It has taken roofs off houses and there's a lot of vegetation down and that's caused enormous damage," she said.

She said the suburbs of Vincent, Pimlico and Gulliver had been affected.

"These are very heavily populated areas of Townsville so there's no doubt that a lot of people have had a very scary experience this morning."

Photos posted on Twitter and other social media showed widespread destruction with Vincent resident Beth Simmons telling ABC radio the storm lasted about 20 minutes.