This is the moment workers duck for cover as massive hailstones pummel the ground of Australia’s capital. Eyewitnesses in Canberra said the downpour ‘sounded like gunfire’ but, but that didn’t stop some going out in their t-shirts and shorts to ‘surf’ on the slippery ground.

After battling devastating bushfires for months, eastern Australia has been hit with huge thunderstorms, causing flash flooding in many cities. Two people were struck by lightning in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, while a pair were taken to hospital for minor injuries in Canberra. Car windows and buildings have been wrecked by the showers while piles of hail have built up in people’s doorways, footpaths and gardens.

Residents have been advised to move any valuables into a safe space to avoid being destroyed by the massive ice balls. Commuters have warned to expect ‘havoc’ on the roads and were urged by authorities to drive carefully and plan routes in advance.

Emergency Services minister David Elliott added: ‘Run-off from rainfall in fire affected areas may behave differently and be more rapid resulting in flash flooding which may also contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocks. ‘Unfortunately coming in this massive amount in one go, quickly does cause some risk… both in how you capture most of that… and also debris run-off and the potential for fallen trees.’

Picture: Reuters
Picture: EPA/AAP

In a statement, New South Wales State Emergency Services commissioner Paul Bailey said: ‘I’m urging people to ask themselves the questions – what would you do with your pets, your car or loose outdoor furniture if a storm was to hit?’ Strong winds have whipped up dust clouds, temporarily blocking the sun in some New South Wales towns including Dubbo and Orange.

Power was cut off in many parts of Australian Capital Territory as power polls were seriously damaged. Electricity has since been restored to about 1,000 homes but at least 170 customers remain without electricity. The country’s ACT Emergency Services Agency says it responded to more than 1,200 calls for help during and after the storm.

Picture: Reuters

Forecasters say the storm is expected to hit large parts of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and southeast Queensland. Brisbane was predicted to have up to 30mm of rain this afternoon, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), which also forecasts heatwave conditions across the state.

Meanwhile the town of Broadford, in Victoria, recorded 50mm of rainfall in just 45 minutes overnight, MailOnline reports. Other parts of the state have been warned to expect 20-50mm of rain with a peak of 100mm in some places. After being hit with 350mm of rain over the weekend, parts of southeast Queensland have more storms coming their way.

While the downpours will provide some relief for those fighting raging infernos, authorities warn the crisis is ‘still far from over’. More than 80 wildfires were still burning across NSW and Victoria today despite the wet weather. Since September the blazes have killed at least 30 people, devastated the country’s wildlife, destroyed more than 2,600 homes and have decimated 10.4 million hectares of land – a larger area than the US state of Indiana.

Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews said the recent storms have proved ‘very helpful’ to communities ravaged by the fires. But he warned that they jeopardised firefighting efforts in other ways and caused a landslide on a highway. Meanwhile air pollution in Melbourne shot up beyond hazardous levels last week due to smoke caused by surrounding wildfires. Andrews told reporters: ‘Ultimately, we need to remain vigilant. It’s 20 January – the fire season is far from over.’