Lusi closes in

STORM COMING: Cloud preceding Tropical Cyclone Lusi covers the top of the North Island in this MetService satellite image.
STORM COMING: Cloud preceding Tropical Cyclone Lusi covers the top of the North Island in this MetService satellite image.

Tropical Cyclone Lusi may not bring torrential rain to Auckland as first forecast, but civil defence officials are worried about strong winds.

Gale-force gusts and downpours are expected for many parts of the country tomorrow.

People are being urged to drive only if necessary and to bring in outdoor furniture as the storm makes its way towards the North Island.

Auckland Civil Defence controller Clive Manley said at a press conference this afternoon that flooding, slips, road closures and power outages were expected in the city.

All stakeholders were "working 24/7 from now".

The impact was likely to be most severe for coastal communities, particularly on the city's eastern beaches.

Manley said staff had been working with those areas to ensure people were ready for the extreme weather to hit.

"Plan for the worst, hope for the best," he said.

Richard Woods. Auckland Civil Defence manager for planning and intelligence, said the most dangerous times would be a couple of hours either side of tomorrow's high tides, at 7.30am and 8pm.

Easterly and northeasterly winds were expected to cause significant coastal erosion and whip up strong swells in the Hauraki Gulf.

Though the rain was unlikely to be as heavy as first predicted, there could be localised flooding, Woods said.

If homes are damaged by Lusi, provisions have been put in place to deal with displaced families.

Manley said if smaller numbers of people were affected, motels had been organised to take them but community centres could be established if issues were more widespread.

Civil Defence had previously worked with some of the Auckland beach communities that could be hit.

The emphasis was firmly on "neighbours helping neighbours", he said.

This morning the storm was about 900 kilometres north of Cape Reinga and moving south at 20kmh to 25kmh.

While it had weakened slightly to a category-2 storm, it was still packing a punch.

Satellite images showed the weather system was nearly the size of the North Island as it tracked towards New Zealand.

The storm has already ravaged parts of the Pacific with at least three dead in Vanuatu.

It is due to hit Northland tonight and is expected to work its way south during the night, forecasters said.

"It's tonight into Saturday when the beast really shows its fangs and teeth," Metservice meteorologist Dan Corbett said.

MetService had a severe-weather watch in place for heavy rain and severe easterly gales in Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty and northern Gisborne tomorrow .