Storm sweeps down country (+videos)

- Tree blocks Rimutaka Hill Rd
- Children trapped at Hawke's Bay school
- Woman's body in river, partner missing
- Power out in much of Horowhenua

Last updated 06:41 30/07/2008
MITCH LEWANDOWSKI
DARK TOWER: Auckland's Sky Tower lost in the storm this morning.
MICHAEL FIELD/Fairfax Media
DARK TOWER: Auckland's Sky Tower lost in the storm this morning.
WET DRIVE: This picture from a reader in Thames shows the river almost bursting its banks.
SUE FOX/Rodney Times
DIRT ALERT: State Highway 1 between Brynderwyn and Warkworth has been closed due to a slip.
PETER ADEN
DRENCHED: Flooding in Te Aroha, Waikato.

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Flights have been cancelled at Wellington airport, the township of Levin has lost power, and highways throughout the country have been closed as wild weather moves down the North Island.
View video: Storm moves south
View video: Wild weather sweeps across NZ

Many roads around the North Island were closed by slips or floods as the second big storm in a few days brought heavy rain and gales.

More than 20 flights in and out of Wellington International Airport have been cancelled today because of high winds, a spokesman said.

Poor weather in Taupo, Gisborne and Nelson also caused the cancellation of Air New Zealand Link flights from those airports.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said weather conditions were still marginal, but staff were doing all they could to assist passengers.

Rail services in the capital have also been disrupted.

State Highway 1 has been closed near Manakau, south of Levin after trees fall onto the road. Both lanes were blocked, but police hoped to re-open one lane this afternoon.

State Highway 2 near Te Marua was closed due to trees falling across the road, blocking motorists from using the Rimutaka Hill Road.

Police central communications shift commander Marc Clausen said one tree had fallen across the road already with another two close to toppling.

Work had begun on clearing the trees, he said.

Around 25,000 households in Horowhenua - including Levin, Otaki and Shannon - are out of power after falling trees cut electricity supply.

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The strong winds were hampering efforts to clear trees and restore the supply, Electra Chief Executive John Yeoman said. "Trees are down everywhere."

A staff member at Levin's police station said the station was running on generators.

Levin chief fire officer Lindsay Walker said the station had around 35 callouts this morning. Electricity was cut shortly after 8am. Most of the callouts related to roofs lifting or fences and trees being blown across properties, he said.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said flights had been affected around the country due to the weather.

A flight from Auckland to Wellington had to return this morning due to high winds, while Link flights from Gisborne and Taupo were also cancelled due to poor weather at those airports.

Sergeant Mark Oliver of police central communications said a tree had blown across SH1 at Mangaweka blocking the road.

SH57 was closed between Shannon and Opiki because of a slip and trees on the road.

Earlier in the day, a truck was blocking the highway after rolling in high winds.

Mr Oliver said there were a number of road closures in the lower North Island, including SH4 between Wanganui and Raetihi. SH35 near Tologa Bay was also closed to anything other than trucks or four wheel drives.

Transit said stormy conditions had also caused a number a road closures and delays in the Hawke's Bay and Gisborne region.

Closures due to surface flooding and slips included SH35 between Te Araroa and Hicks Bay, SH50 at Omahu Road due and at Whakapirau Bluff.

Transit was endeavouring to allow access for local residents but all other traffic should use SH2 as a detour, network operations manager Gordon Hart.

PUPILS TRAPPED AT SCHOOL

A group of school children are trapped at a Hawke's Bay school after the storm sweeping the country knocked over a tree, bringing down powerlines and cutting off the school's only road.

About eight children and three teachers at Elsthorpe School, a rural primary school in central Hawke's Bay, are waiting for the powerlines to be cleared and the tree to be moved.

Principal Katherine Rowe told NZPA the majority of the children at the school, which has a roll of about 50, were sent home on buses this morning after heavy floodwaters threatened roads in the area.

The road became blocked about 11.30am, trapping the remaining students and all of the school's teachers, she said.

"There's only one road to the school and while there is some surface flooding the tree and powerlines have made it impossible to get out."

All the children were safe and well, she said.

Ms Rowe said she did not expect floodwaters to make the road impassable once the powerlines and tree were removed.

POSSIBLE STORM CASUALTY

A woman, believed to be in her 40s, was found dead in a flooded creek by Waikare Inlet Rd, in the Bay of Islands, by local residents around 11.30am.

Police said her body was found 1.5km downstream from a ford crossing over to her house.

Police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said it was thought the woman had parked her car near the ford and attempted to cross the swollen creek on foot.

The woman's partner, who "was always with her" was also missing.

Locals had joined a team of about 15 police and search and rescue people to look for the man.

Senior Sergeant Peter Masters said the river was flooded but they still did not know how the woman died.

Emergency services were having trouble getting to Waikere where the body was found.

Last weekend the first big storm killed three people and a fourth died in a house fire, possibly when candles were used after electricity was cut.

TORBAY HOME DESTROYED, MORE UNDER THREAT FROM SLIP

One home has been almost completely destroyed and more than a dozen more are being threatened by a slip on Auckland's North Shore.

A North Shore Council spokesman said the affected homes were at the bottom of a slip on Lingham Crescent in Torbay.

About 14 homes were at risk, he said.

Police, council staff and civil defence are at the scene assessing the danger before deciding if any evacuation is required.

Glamorgan Dr off East Coast Rd has been closed to allow emergency services to operate.

Police were trying to contact the home owners, many of whom are not at home, to prepare them for the shock of the news.

The council was monitoring stormwater and sewage levels as well as trying to control traffic, he said.

TORNADO IN BAY OF PLENTY

A tornado has damaged several houses in Mt Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty as the wild weather moved south.

The tornado ripped through several streets, lifting roof tiles and smashing windows about 9am.

An hour later the wind had abated and the sun was shining weakly as firefighters placed tarpaulins on the damaged roofs, said Senior Sergeant Tania Kura from the Mt Maunganui police.

"You wouldn't believe it now but it is light drizzle and it is quite sunny," she told NZPA.

She said the tornado did not leave a swathe of destruction but several houses next to each other were damaged.

"The fire guys are up on the roofs, putting tarps up to cover it in the meantime.

"At the moment it is quite calm and everybody is able to get on with doing their job.

"They are able to get and secure stuff because there is no risk around that."

Thames Hospital said many staff had been unable to get to work today because of road closures due to flooding.

Some also may have to leave early to avoid being stranded.

Clinics would continue today as planned, but some patients had changed their appointments, a spokeswoman said.

Accommodation was available for anyone in early labour. she said.

ROADS CLOSED UP NORTH

Northland was cut off from the rest of the country for a time, when State Highway 1 was closed by a huge slip just north of Warkworth.

SH1 at Dome Valley would be closed for several hours while contractors cleared a large slip that was several feet high, police said.

The alternative route north, State Highway 16, was closed by flooding. It later reopened but remained marginal.

On SH1, a large tree had fallen fell on a northbound lane south of Whangarei while there was also a large slip 2km north of the Dargaville turnoff, where a truck was stuck in mud.

Another slip was partially blocking SH1 at Pohuehue viaduct south of Warkworth, though traffic was still flowing.

With the weather likely to worsen today, police said the best advice they could offer motorists was to stay at home unless it was absolutely necessary to go out.

Drivers who had to go out should take extreme care, said Inspector Matt Sillars from the police northern communications centre in Auckland.

"Some of these idiots drive straight through a flooded part of the road and think it is huge fun, but all they do is flood cars and suddenly we have got blockages and it creates other problems for us," he said.

Drivers should slow down and not speed into flooding, even minor flooding, in case the road had been damaged, he said.

Whangarei District Council spokeswoman Ann Midson said the storm appeared to be passing through Northland quite quickly with less rainfall than expected.

Rivers were still high and the winds blustery, she said.

High tide had passed and the central business district had escaped flooding, she said.

"Motorists are asked to drive with great care this morning as roads are likely to be flooded at the usual spots across the region and powerlines may be down, trees and slips may be blocking roads."

Blocked roads were being dealt with as quickly as possible, she said.

Civil Defence were monitoring the situation, she said.

Police said motorists in the Far North should be cautious of power lines and trees falling onto the road.

A tree fell onto a road and pulled powerlines with it on Paihia Road at Opua on State Highway 11, in the Bay of Islands, early today.

The road was closed while police and contractors removed the obstructions.

A bridge on SH17 between the Albany township on Auckland's North Shore and the Albany Tavern was underwater, but reopened by 6.20am.

All lanes of Oteha Valley Road were flooded on the eastern side of the northern motorway but the road was passable, police said.

Kaihikatea Road in Dairy Flat, north of Albany, was flooded and unlikely to be driveable.

Woodcocks Road in Warkworth was flooded near the western end and there were slips.

In the Bay of Plenty, two toppled 4.5m pine trees have partially blocked SH29 near the Tauranga suburb of Greerton.

The storm also caused a number of slips.

SH2 between Paeroa and Waihi in the Karangahake Gorge was .3m under water in places, and nearly impassable.

In the Coromandel, SH25 south of Whitianga was flooded with water one metre deep and impassable.

SOUTH ISLAND BRACED

Civil Defence has issued a warning to Canterbury residents as the storm closes in, with experts particularly concerned about high tide at Kaikoura this afternoon.

The Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group said all residents in the region should prepare for a significant weather front based on MetService's forecast.

The forecast indicates that the weather front will hit Kaikoura around 3pm, with a possible 120 to 150 mm of rain falling in the next 24 hours. There is also a high tide predicted for 1.9 metres at 2pm this afternoon that may complicate the weather situation.

"We are watching the situation very closely right now," said Danny Smith, the Kaikoura District Civil Defence Emergency Management Controller.

The Canterbury foothills also received a heavy rain warning for up to 100 to 140 mm and 40 to 60 mm of rain in the plains. Snow is also predicted in the mountain passes above 500 metres.

Drivers are advised to take special precautions by slowing down and avoid all unnecessary journeys.

People considering going over the mountain passes should take chains with them in case of snow and to check the latest weather forecasts before travelling.

- The Dominion Post

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