Auckland tornado kills 3, hits 150 homes

Last updated 16:00 06/12/2012

Tornado hits Hobsonville

Tornado smashes Auckland

DOWNPOURS: A MetService rain radar image at 11.20am showing heavy rain approaching Auckland and north Waikato.
MetService
DOWNPOURS: A MetService rain radar image at 11.20am showing heavy rain approaching Auckland and north Waikato.

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LATEST: Three people are dead, seven in hospital and 150 homes badly damaged after Auckland was smashed by a tornado and torrential rain this afternoon.

The tornado, which hit about 12.15pm today, ripped roofs from houses, toppled trees and sent debris flying on to cars.

Civil Defence said those killed and injured were believed to have been at the Hobsonville Point school construction site or hit by falling trees. Nearly 250 residents from uninhabitable homes had been given shelter at the Whenuapai Air Force base. 

Hobsonville Point residents have been ordered to take shelter in their homes with the MetService warning of the potential for further tornadoes. Police set up an operational base at the worst-hit Whenuapai.

Ambulance staff reported two deaths from the storm at a school construction site off Hobsonville Rd. A third death was later confirmed.

Hobsonville Point Primary School principal Daniel Birch said two construction workers were killed at the site where a secondary school was being built.

"There's two schools being built, the primary school site which wasn't in the path of the tornado and the secondary school site where the two workers were killed."

The residential centre of the tornado's destruction was Wallingford Way, in Hobsonville; a street lined with defence force state housing.

Every house in Wallingford Way is damaged in some form with broken windows, damaged roofs and trees uprooted.

Most residents have been evacutaed from the street but army and emergency services continue to work to clear the debris.

A resident said they saw wheelie bins and pot plants flying past their windows and were forced to duck for shelter as windows smashed in. Urban Search and Rescue (Usar) members, already in the area for training, have ben diverted to check houses.

The Defence Force was cooperating with the response but has not yet deployed personnel. Andy Gummer from St John said: "So far seven people have been transported to North Shore hospital with minor and moderate injuries.

FIREFIGHTERS RESPOND

Twenty fire trucks have dealt with 80 properties, mainly in Hobsonville and surrounding west Auckland suburbs.

Roofs being blown off and flooding were the main problems being dealt with, fire communications shift manager Peter Stevenson said.

North Shore Hospital's emergency department assessed four patients with tornado injuries, though their status or the type of injury was not yet known.

Patients were sent to North Shore because it had a larger emergency department than Waitakere. Waitakere Hospital suffered surface flooding in an outpatient area.

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Auckland International Airport, just after 3pm, warned "severe weather experienced in Auckland ... has caused some disruption to air travel, particularly to some regional New Zealand destinations.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said shortly before 4pm that operations had resumed at Auckland Airport after staff had early been pulled off the tarmac for safety reasons.

"However, there will be a significant delays to domestic and some international flights."

Power was lost to many parts of Auckland, including Henderson, Greenhithe, Hobsonville, Riverhead, Meadowbank and St Johns.  

The New Zealand Transport Agency said State Highway 18, the upper harbour motorway, was closed between Brigham Creek Rd and Greenhithe Rd due to debris on the road.

WITNESS REPORTS

Kamaiah Gera, 7, was at school at Hobsonville Primary - next to the construction site where three people were killed - when the tornado hit.

"We had to just sit down and do drawing or colouring until it was over," she said. "It made lots of noise and we got scared."

When the children went outside, Kamaiah said the water was so deep it was up to their ankles. "It looked all watery. When my friend put her feet in it came up to [her calf] because she is so small."

Parents said they struggled to get hold of the school to confirm if the children were all right. By the Time Kamaiah's mum, Jo Clarke, picked her up there were dozens of parents at the school in a panic.

Toni Hayward, administrator at the Open Wananga Office in Hobsonville, saw the tornado rip through the area.

"It came right through here and picked stuff up an threw it on the road."

"The sky went all dark and there was a big clap of thunder, all the trees were flattened."

Hobsonville RSA cook Deborah Carlson said she was trapped in her car during the storm, too terrified to go outside.

"I was just sitting there because it was pouring with rain and I thought I'd wait it out. But then my car starting shaking and there were things flying everywhere. I thought it was going to flip, I was terrified."

Carlson said she didn't know what to do, so called her boyfriend.

"I was in there by myself for about 15 minutes. The bins were flying past and the gates were swinging open, it was horrible."

She said when she finally left the car, the scene was a mess: "There's debris everywhere."

Casey Davenport, who lives in Hobsonville, was at work when the weather started to turn.

"Then it just came down, and it looked like mini tornadoes - the rain was just like being swished around a lot."

"Then somebody gave me a call and said that somebody's house from work had been taken out and I was like 'oh God'. Not fun."

Fallen or uprooted trees and pieces of debris were blocking the road to her house, which she said now is "leaking like a sieve".

"We're missing tiles, broken windows ... it's full of water now because it's leaking. But we're one of the better ones I think."

Brendan Muir, who is working at Hobsonville Point, said he was sitting in a ute when the tornado hit.

"It was just mayhem. I had to put my seat belt on, I thought it was going to flip."

Muir said that, around him, he could see trees "that looked like a plane had crashed into them", walls and fences knocked down and Portaloos scattered about.

He said for about 10 minutes there were so many sirens sounding it "seemed like 9/11".

Despite threats of another tornado on the way, Muir said he was back pouring concrete.

Frances Schuster said the tornado only lasted 12 seconds but was terrifying.

"It went blurry for a while, it just happened so fast. It was really loud and the windows were shaking."

Part of a roof fell on to her car.

PM, MAYOR RESPOND

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key - the MP for Helensville, which includes Hobsonville - said he was being kept informed of the situation.

"Emergency services are currently responding. People are being advised to remain indoors and to avoid the area, if possible."

She added: "The Prime Minister will continue to assess the situation as information becomes available throughout the day."

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said he was very concerned at casualties on Hobsonville Point.

"Also reports of surface flooding and damage in other parts of Auckland. Please stay safe and if possible stay inside until the weather clears," he said on his Facebook page.

OTHER WARNINGS

The MetService also issued severe thunderstorm warnings for Opotiki, Gisborne, Whakatane, Wairoa and Murupara.

"These thunderstorms are expected to be accompanied by very heavy rain, large hail, damaging wind gusts and possible tornadoes.''

HISTORY

In May, last year, a tornado in Albany, on Auckland's North Shore resulted in the death of construction worker Benedict Dacayan.

The 37-year-old North Shore resident worked for Fletcher Building and was part of a team of 15 helping to demolish the old Placemakers building in Albany when the tornado lifted him into the air and threw him into a concrete wall.

The tornado caused extensive damage to sectors of Westfield, Pak 'n' Save and other commercial locations and tossed cars in the air.

In September, last year, more than a dozen houses were damaged by a tornado that ripped through several streets in the West Auckland suburbs of Avondale and Te Atatu South.

- Auckland Now

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