Wellington cleaning up wind-whipped city

WELLINGTON REPORTERS
Last updated 15:35 21/06/2013

Southerly storm hits Wellington CBD

Wellington wind causes havoc

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Four-year-old Jackson from Lake Tekapo measured 21 inches (53 cm) of snow at 9am and says it's well over 26 inches (66 cm) at 3pm and still snowing.

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Transport closures and cancellations Worst of the wild weather over Thousands of Wellington homes without power Roofs ripped off, streets 'trashed' Power out, trees down in Wairarapa Big clean-up ahead for Hutt Valley Kapiti begins to mop up

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Power outages and road closures continue in the capital after raging winds whipped through Wellington overnight. 

Storm damage continues to cause havoc in Wellington, with a neon sign becoming too hot to handle for an inner-city brothel.

Fire communications spokesman Murray Dunbar said emergency services were called to Il-Bordello on Vivian St at 7.30pm.

A fire had sparked in an exterior sign, but was extinguished before extending into the building.

A spokesman for the business said wiring had been damaged during last night's storm, leading to the fire.

"It's all good, we're back in business now buddy."

The storm that rolled up the country yesterday, blanketing parts of the South Islands in near-record levels of snow, smashed the lower North Island overnight.

Widespread power outages hit 30,000 Wellington homes overnight, and Wellington Electricity estimate 8000 households were still disconnected this afternoon. 

There are also about 600 homes without power in Wairarapa. 

The storm is playing havoc with transport links around the Wellington region this morning, with train, ferry air and bus travel all hit.

Event organisers are also assessing the situation this morning - tomorrow's Trentham Races are cancelled and the start of the Wellington LUX light festival has been postponed until tomorrow night.  

Wellington transport closures

Wellington school closures 

Thousands still without power

Roofs ripped off, streets 'trashed'


Lashed by the storm? Got photos?

Get in touch with us by phone: 0800 DOMPOST (366767) or email: news@dompost.co.nz


CAPITAL DOMINATES INSURANCE CLAIMS

Insurance claims after records winds and snow tore up New Zealand have peaked in Wellington, insurance companies say, as the clean up begins.

Tower Insurance has confirmed it's received more than 150 claims from people in the Wellington region alone after an Antarctic low ripped through the city last night. 

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A spokeswoman said Wellington region was dominating claims after the snow, wind and rain that battered the country in the past week.

Tower said it had received 150 claims, most from Wellington, as a result of the weather.

"Claims ranged from roofs being blown off homes, to trees on rooftops, damage to fences and flooded carpets," spokeswoman Tracey Palmer said.

Extra claims staff and assessors would be available for the next few days.

The overnight damage also resulted in several hundred claims and calls for assistance, over and above the average, being received by both State Insurance and AMI this morning. 

Both insurers expected those number of claims to rise over the next three or four days as customers who dealt with the initial impact of the storms were able to spend more time at the weekend assessing the extent of the damage.

Spokesman Craig Dowling said the majority of claims for the South Island were due to flooding, roof leaks, wind damage and some snow damage around sprouting and rooting. 

"In Wellington, there was a lot of wind damage to roofing and resultant water damage. There’s also been damage to fencing and some reports of trees falling and damaging properties. 

"We’ve also heard from some people with damage to outside items such as garden furniture and trampolines."

 He said it was a significant weather event that had "hit the region and our customers hard".

"We have people working extended hours today and additional people will work over the weekend and into next week, not only to receive claims, but also to go out and assess damage for the worst hit properties. Our priority is to give more urgent attention to severely damaged properties first."

STORM PELTS CAPITAL

While the capital was not out of the woods yet, with showers and gusty winds to continue through the afternoon and evening, the worst was over.

More than 10mm of rain, gusts up to 100kmh and a temperature drop down to 7 degrees Celcius were forecast overnight, MetService forecaster Rachel Kirkman said.

While such an outlook seemed little improvement from yesterday's conditions, overall the weather was easing, she said.

"Canterbury and Marlborough - that's where the brunt of the severe weather to come is. Here in Wellington we're looking at things improving, though it's still going to feel really cold."

However, the cold southerlies and rain would not clear entirely until Sunday.

Today's easing winds also meant ocean swells had eased off a little, though due to waves, Hutt City Council shut the road out to Eastbourne, Marine Drive, just after 1pm to all traffic but residents. Waves were lapping over the road prior to the high tide.

The closure, from the Seaview and Gracefield intersections, was set to reopen at 5.30pm.

Ms Kirkman said the storm, which brought the worst snowstorm in 30 years to the South Island, was rare in its size. "To have such severe weather so widespread is rare, even for New Zealand."

Winds reached 200kmh at 8pm on Mt Kaukau last night, and were gusting up to 140kmh at Wellington Airport. 

Temperatures dropped to 6.1 degrees Celsius early yesterday evening, though they warmed slightly to 8 overnight.

Swells of up to 10 metres have been reported in Cook Strait, with large amounts of debris have been thrown on to roads on Wellington's south coast.

Wellington's 200kmh gales on Mt Kaukau did not set a New Zealand record, base on Niwa statistics, though they matched the gales in the infamous 1968 Wahine storm - exceeding them by a mere 2kmh.

The strongest winds to hit the North Island were recorded at Hawkins Hill in Wellington, with 248kmh on both November 6 1959 and July 4 1962.

SIGNIFICANT REPAIR COSTS AHEAD

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said they had received about 500 calls since 7pm last night, and there were "trees down all over the place".

The council was working to clear trees and roads on a priority basis but it would take some time, he warned.

Wilton was among the worst hit suburbs with trees bringing down powerlines.

People were being urged to stay away from the town belt tracks as staff had been unable to check those areas yet, he said.

"They may end up with a tree on them."

The power outages had caused problems with sewage pump stations, so it was likely some sewage would end up in the harbour, he said.

The council was also anticipating "significant repair costs" on south coast roads, with seawalls in Island Bay "pretty much destroyed overnight", he said.

The council was urging people without power to check on the neighbours, particularly the elderly and people with children.

Mr MacLean confirmed one of the houses affected by the Kingston Slip earlier this month lost its roof in the storm.

The slip site had not worsened in the storm, he said.

The Wellington region is dominating claims to insurance company Tower after the snow, wind and rain that battered the country in the past week.

Tower said it had received 150 claims, most from Wellington, as a result of the weather.

"Claims ranged from roofs being blown off homes, to trees on rooftops, damage to fences and flooded carpets," spokeswoman Tracey Palmer said.

Extra claims staff and assessors would be available for the next few days.

Customers who urgently needed their property to be made safe, or needed other urgent assistance, should call Tower on 0800 379 372.

CAUTION URGED ON ROADS 

While the South Coast was described as a bombsite this morning, most coastal roads had been reopened this morning, Wellington City Council emergency controller Neville Brown said.

The Esplanade, between Island Bay and Owhiro Bay, was severely damaged by huge waves and recent assessments had ruled one stretch of the road near a damaged section of sea wall needed to be closed again with higher tides.

Hutt City Council had also shut the road out to Eastbourne, Marine Drive, just after 1pm to all traffic but residents.

Waves were lapping over the road prior to the high tide at 2.30pm.

Other inland roads remained closed or were at reduced capacity. Paekakariki Hill Rd and Makara Rd from Karori would be closed until further notice. The latter had been cut off due to a large tree fall and crews would not attempt to remove the debris until tomorrow, because of the high winds.

One lane of Middleton Rd would reopen this afternoon, and crews were working to reopen the Makara route to Johnsonville along Takarau Gorge Rd by tonight, Mr Brown said.

The emergency response team was working with Wellington Electricity and would be establishing welfare shelters overnight if continuing power outages meant they were required.

Mr Brown also advised people to continue to use caution and avoid travel unless necessary.

"There are still pretty strong wind gusts, so we're still urging people to be careful particularly during the hours of darkness."

People were also warned to avoid park and reserves, as trees in these areas were likely to be storm-damaged and potentially unstable.

THE WORST STORM SINCE 1968 

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown praised workers and volunteers who toiled in treacherous conditions overnight.

Many people involved in the emergency services and civil defence have described the winds as probably the worst to hit the area since the Wahine storm in 1968, she said.

"Our civil defence volunteer response teams - from Wellington, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Victoria University - have also been doing sterling work to help residents around the area overnight."

Wellington City Council's customer contact centre took more than 400 calls for assistance overnight.

Mayor Wade-Brown urged residents to continue to call their local councils to report damage.

"We want to know as much as possible about trees down, slips and other damage around the area. Residents are very valuable as our eyes and ears."

While Wellington City Council was running its usual rubbish and recycling collection Ms Wade-Brown asked residents to not put their rubbish and recycling out.

"It is likely to end up being blown all over the neighbourhood."

Wellington's south coast - between Owhiro Bay and Moa Point - was battered overnight by huge swells off Cook Strait.

There was damage to the seawall at Island Bay and seaside roads which have been scoured and covered in large amounts of debris deposited on the seaside roads.

Ms Wade-Brown urges residents to take care.

''It is likely there will be a lot of damage that will become obvious during the day. If at all possible, people should think about delaying trips or even staying home."

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett praised emergency services, council staff, contractors and emergency management volunteers who were responding to calls to help people, restore power supplies  and clear roads.

With the scale of damage council was having to prioritise tasks to deal with major problems first.

But he warned that power may still be off to some homes tonight.

''People should plan to spend the night with friends or family if they can't stay at home," said Mr  Leggett.

SIX IN HOSPITAL

A Hutt Hospital spokeswoman said six people went to its emergency department last night.

Five had been knocked over in the wind, and one had tripped over a coffee table in the dark.

All had minor injuries so were treated and discharged.

Power was out to two administration buildings at Hutt Hospital this morning, but medical services were not affected.

A Wellington Hospital spokeswoman said it had not received any storm related casualties.

- The Dominion Post

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