Millions in damage after gale battering

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2012
storm
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Firemen remove a tree that fell on Newlands Road.

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The weekend's violent gales and heavy rain have left behind millions of dollars' damage and thousands of lower North Island residents counting the costs.

The savage storm hit hardest in South Taranaki and Whanganui, though its effects were felt far and wide across the country. Roofs were ripped off houses, power cut to tens of thousands of properties, trees downed and travel plans and sports events disrupted. The force of the blast, with wind speeds of close to 150kmh, had people drawing comparisons with Cyclone Bola in 1988.

Cleanup efforts in Hawera, Patea and Waverley hit full swing yesterday, and damage is likely to run into millions of dollars. The Insurance Council said it would not have an idea of the number or extent of claims for another few days.

Civil Defence controller Kevin Ross said the fire service in Whanganui dealt with 66 major property damage or "life at risk" events between 6am and 2pm on Saturday.

The weather bomb, with its rapid decrease in air pressure, high winds and heavy rain, brought down trees and power poles in Wellington. A wind gust of 148kmh was recorded at Mt Kaukau late on Saturday morning.

Ferry sailings across Cook Strait were cancelled on Saturday and harbourmaster Michael Pryce said swells of about 9.5 metres made things "pretty lumpy" at sea.

North Island gas and electricity company Powerco said about 30,000 of its customers were left without power on Saturday, though by last night the number had dropped to about 4500. About 600 overhead lines were brought down and a large number of poles damaged in South Taranaki and Whanganui.

The company says it may take another few days to fully restore supply to all customers. Inspections have confirmed that damage to the electricity network is severe and some sections may need to be completely rebuilt.

In Wellington about 2000 customers in Johnsonville, Porirua and Upper Hutt lost power on Saturday but everyone was back up and running by evening.

Four classrooms were flooded at Fernlea School in Wainuiomata, though they were expected to have been cleaned up in time for classes this morning.

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main said that, although the bad weather had now passed, there were still issues to deal with in the coming weeks. Residents are being asked to conserve water, while sewage in waterways and at beaches would remain a problem. No-one should swim in the Whanganui River and at beaches.

Several sports events could not go ahead as planned due to safety concerns.

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Brief Respite

The lower North Island is forecast to get a respite from the wind and rain for a couple of days before they return to the capital by midweek. MetService forecaster Philippa Murdoch said a ridge of high pressure would move over the region from this morning, bringing calmer weather with mild winds and sunny spells today and tomorrow. On Wednesday, showers would develop and strong southerlies return to Wellington. The rain and wind would push north to Taranaki through to Hawke's Bay, easing to moderate southeasterlies. That wet and windy pattern is expected to continue through Thursday before the ridge of high pressure returns from the South Island again, bringing settled, dry weather that should continue through to Saturday. Maximum temperatures across the lower North Island until Thursday are expected to be up to 22 degrees Celsius, dropping to minimums of between 8C and 12C.

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