Powerful winds are causing chaos in the capital, with scaffolding collapsing, trees falling and widespread transport difficulties.
LATEST: Buses in the central city will be diverted after Willis St was closed by emergency services.
Thousands of passengers have had flights in and out of Wellington cancelled and power has been cut to hundreds of homes.
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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Most flights have been cancelled at Wellington airport - customers should call their airline to confirm flights or visit http://www.wellingtonairport.co.nz/ to confirm.
- Wellington's East by West ferries have been cancelled for the rest of the day.
- Willis St has been closed off due to a scaffold collapse and buses are being diverted up Victoria St, along the waterfront and Boulcott St
- Services on the Kapiti Line are experiencing delays due to a track obstruction. High winds have blown debris into the overhead wires at Tawa.
- NZTA has re-opened the Rimutaka Hill road after closing due to dangerous high winds before midday.
- Motorists, especially motorcyclists and those in high-sided vehicles, should be extremely cautious on the roads.
SCAFFOLDING COLLAPSES IN CENTRAL CITY
Three floors of scaffolding have fallen down in to an empty building site on Willis St, just along from the Telecom Centre.
Fire and police have arrived and have closed the street until further notice.
No-one appears to have been hurt, but people were being asked to stay away from area because bits of debris were being blown about.
A Fire Service spokesman confirmed there were fears that the scaffolding could be "live" as a result of contact with trolley bus lines, and pedestrians were being kept well clear.
"It's very unstable, and could still present a risk to people," the spokesman said.
Pedestrians were still able to use the opposite side of the road but buses and other traffic were being diverted, with northbound flow being redirected to the waterfront and southbound to Victoria Street, Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said.
Buses were also being diverted up Boulcott Street due to the traffic disruptions caused by the Willis St scaffolding collapse, a central district police spokesman said.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt was working in a building opposite the scaffolding and described the noise as the scaffolding crashed down.
"I heard what just sounded almost like an earthquake. There was a big noise and the building vibrated a little ... there was this 'whoosh' sound that was obviously the wind then the scaffolding coming down," he said.
"It's just indicative of how powerful these winds are."
Two century-old buildings on the site were demolition earlier this year to make way for two new stores.
The 1910 vintage Munns store and the 1876 Suzanne Grae store, which stood between the Grand Arcade and Telecom Central development, were owned by Singaporean-owned Grand Complex Properties.
In July Jones Lang LaSalle property development agent Tony Jacques told Fairfax the two old shops would be demolished and tenders would be called for construction of two new single- storey shops on the same footprint.
The strong winds tunnelling through Willis Street blew out a glass shopfront right into the path of a pedestrian.
Wellingtonian Duncan MacLeod was hit by a pane of flying glass as he fought the wind to walk past Pandoro Panetteria, on the corner of Willis and Bond Streets, just after 7.30 this evening.
"I was just walking down the street the wind was pushing me behind, not too hard, and then all of a sudden there was a huge gust from the front and the wind pushed be back and the window burst out just the bottom first, and then the top crashed down. I got a little bit of the side dropped on my arm...then there was another gust and that dropped out too."
MacLeod ecaped with minor scratches on one arm, while firemen, already on the street, turned their attention to the glass strewn on the footpath.
EMERGENCY SERVICES BUSY
Fire service central communications shift manager Jan Wills said crews had attended 32 wind-related calls since 6.30am.
A van was blown over on the southbound lane of State Highway 1 near Churton Park at 1pm. Significant delays were expected as an entire lane was blocked, NZTA warned.
Power lines had been downed across Wairarapa and central Wellington, including outside the gates of Johnsonville School.
Power has been cut to about 3,000 properties in Wairarapa, Rangitikei and Manawatu as winds bring down trees and debris and topple power lines.
Wairarapa is the worst affected area, with about 2300 customers losing power.
Wellington Electricity spokesman Drew Douglas said about half of 1000 properties in the Eastbourne and Gracefield suburbs of Lower Hutt had power restored.
About 190 homes in Titahi Bay have been without power since this afternoon. The power outage began at about 2pm today and had not yet been restored, a Wellington Electricity spokesman said.
Power was expected to be restored to all the affected areas by tonight, he said.
Gales gusting to 130kmh are forecast to hit Wairarapa tonight and are likely to cause further power cuts, Powerco network operations manager Phil Marsh.
Mr Marsh said extra crews had been called in and about 50 field staff were working in the affected areas.
Outages have also been reported in Titahi Bay.
Police in Wairarapa were also warning motorists north of Masterton in the Mt Bruce area to wary of ''extreme'' wind gusts.
NZTA spokesman Anthony Frith said motorists, especially those on motorcycles and in high-sided vehicles, should take ''extreme care'', today.
A truck on State Highway 2 was overturned north of Masterton in Wairarapa shortly before 11am, AA said.
And four adults and two children were lucky to escape injuries after their campervan was blown over north of Mt Bruce on SH2 just after 2pm.
Police communications Inspector Chris Tate said the crash did not cause any blockage on the highway.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said various wind-related calls had been received this morning, including a crane ''swinging in the wind'' on Bolton St, off The Terrace in central Wellington.
There was also a tree uprooted and across a car in Makererua St, Ngaio, Wellington Hospital's main entrance sign was unstable in Newtown, and other road signs had been blown around.
Wellington City Council spokesman Clayton Anderson said about 300 calls had been received by 1pm, which was not a particularly high number.
''It's weird, when we have these strong northwest wind storms we get bugger all phone calls and damage reported. If it's a southerly though, like the June storm, all hell breaks loose."
There have been no reports of any injuries.
CONTAINERS BLOWN OVER IN WIND
CentrePort chief executive Blair O'Keeffe confirmed four containers had blown over in winds gusting up to 157kmh in the port area late this afternoon.
Mr O'Keeffe said the three of the containers had blown over at the port's empty container terminal and the fourth container had fallen over within the container terminal area of the port itself.
Restaurateur Martin Bosley heard a "arge, crashing, rumbling noise coming from the port" before watching "about three" containers falling over in the wind from his restaurant at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.
The container cranes did not work the ship in the northerly gales.
Meanwhile the Santa Regina assisted by a CentrePort tug finally berthed at its Kings Wharf berth following the crossing from Picton about 75 minutes late at 6:45pm.
FLIGHTS AND SAILINGS AFFECTED
All regional flights were cancelled in and out of Wellington airport this morning.
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman confirmed 40 flights in and out of the capital had been cancelled, affecting about 2000 passengers.
Passengers flying from Hamilton, Gisborne, Napier, Nelson, Auckland, Whangarei, and Invercargill to Wellington were all sent to Palmerston North between 8am and 10am.
A passenger on the Whangarei to Wellington flight, Shane Stanners, said they had descended to 3000 feet above Wellington when the pilot decided it was blowing too much.
Jetstar was unable to immediately say if its planes were cancelled.
Cabinet ministers due to fly into Wellington this morning had their flights cancelled or diverted elsewhere, a government spokeswoman confirmed.
Prime Minister John Key's flight to Wellington was among those which had been unable to take off.
The Cabinet meeting had been postponed till this afternoon for now.
The high winds also delayed cruise ship The Sea Princess coming to Wellington this morning. It is now due to arrive tomorrow.
FORECASTERS PREDICT MORE WIND
MetService says Wellington, Kapiti, Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay will all be affected by the strong northwesterlies today.
Forecaster Dan Corbett warned ''the meat of the core of the strong winds'' was due in Wellington between 2-8pm today. Gusts of 139kmh were recorded in Kelburn before 11am. A top wind speed of 161kmh had been recorded at Mt Kau Kau.
MetService forecaster Mike O'Connor said the severe winds, which were gusting to hurricane-force, were set to peak late afternoon between 5pm and 7pm.
WeatherWatch, a separate forecaster from MetService, picked winds to reach 150kmh today and said Wellington had gusts of 140kmh just before 9am.
- The Dominion Post
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