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Tornado carnage is confronting for many

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012
twister

FLYING DEBRIS: A photo of flying debris taken by police employee Maureen Kelly from the top floor of the North Shore Police Station during the tornado on December 6. It appears to be a sheet of corrugated iron and is said to have travelled several kilometres.

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Scenes of utter devastation confronted North Shore firefighters as they raced to help out in the aftermath of the Hobsonville tornado.

The storm ripped through Hobsonville and Whenuapai around midday on December 6 killing three men, injuring dozens and rendering more than 200 people homeless.

Displaced residents sheltered in the Whenuapai airbase waiting for the storm to pass as emergency workers and volunteers worked day and night.

Albany fire station officer Graham Haycock says they were called to Whenuapai as the tornado hit where they worked for six solid hours to repair and secure victims' homes.

"Driving there the damage was incredible. It was quite hard to take it all in, there were trees uprooted everywhere and some with root balls 15 feet high.

"We had to clear street lamps that were lying across the motorway. Some trees were blocking the road so we had to do a U-turn and just as we came ripping over the hill there was an 11,000KB volt cable lying across the road."

Mr Haycock says it was a miracle more people were not killed and commends the work of residents to help out their neighbours. He says many homeowners in Kowhai Rd and Puriri Rd lost their roofs and had windows smashed and doors torn from their hinges.

"The first people we saw were very lucky not to have been killed. They had been driving down country when they saw the storm coming and turned around. As they were coming back down their driveway a huge tree came down just metres in front of them. When they turned to go the other way another tree crashed down blocking them in," Mr Haycock says.

Albany firefighters then returned to swap with the next shift who went back to Whenuapai for another two-hour stint.

All North Shore fire crews were called to the Hobsonville and Whenuapai areas, aside from Birkenhead fire fighters who remained to hold the fort. Birkenhead Fire station officer John Leonard says they attended

multiple flooding callouts on the North Shore and a switchboard fire in Paremoremo, but most were minor incidents.

Bays Foundations director Colin Dale had earlier been working with his concreting crew at a site only a short distance from where the three men were killed.

Minutes before the tornado struck he was driving along the motorway to the North Shore.

"I had to pull over because the rain was so torrential.

"Once it started to ease I started driving again and came across a truck sitting all bent right in the middle of the motorway and I thought ‘holy smoke it must be serious'," Mr Dale says.

Further along he had to dodge huge slabs of orange sound barrier strewn across the motorway.

Greenhithe School children were kept indoors as staff learnt of the nearby tornado warning.

An email was sent advising parents of the situation and allowing them to collect their children from school at any time throughout the day.

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- North Shore Times

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