Mini tornado strikes Kapiti

MICHAEL FORBES AND KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 11:21 27/01/2014

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A mini tornado has cut a path of destruction on the Kapiti Coast, lifting roofs, snapping trees and flattening fences.

Residents of Raumati South, including Hobbit movies actor Jed Brophy, were forced to take cover when the unusual weather event struck about 5pm yesterday.

Brophy, who plays dwarf Nori in The Hobbit trilogy, said there was an intense burst of rain and thunder before the tornado hit his home in Raumati South with a blast of wind that lasted between five and 10 seconds.

It snapped about five trees on his property and sent his compost bin flying across the backyard.

"It was calm and then there was this huge bang and really strong winds. The whole house shook for a while. It was weird.

"My first thought was a tornado but then I thought I was just over-reacting. It wasn't until I looked outside that I realised I wasn't."

A fence had been flattened across the road from his home and the house next door had lost part of its roof. Trees had also been snapped in half on both properties.

But elsewhere, everything looked untouched.

"It followed a distinct path . . . everything had been blown over in the same direction," he said.

"My son was out in the sleepout when it happened and he said the whole thing shook as if it was an earthquake."

A fire communications spokeswoman said firefighters responded to reports of a mini tornado that had lifted the roofs off houses in Dale Rd and Tiromoana Rd. No-one was hurt.

A Tiromoana Rd resident emailed Fairfax Media to say "all hell let loose" in her garden.

"We had a tree down on the sleepout roof, the trampoline has shifted right across the garden and the patio furniture was flying up in the air," she said.

"Flipping frightened us all. We thought it was another earthquake and the windows were going to explode."

Foxton resident Jenny McKinnon said she saw a "tornado-like funnel" pass to the east of the town about 5pm.

MetService forecaster Liz Walsh said a storm front moving east across the North Island was to blame for the wild weather.

The heaviest rainfall was recorded at Mana Island, where 17mm fell between 5pm and 6.30pm. Similar readings were recorded in Lower Hutt and Tawa.

The strongest wind gust was 115kmh, on the Rimutaka Hill Rd, but gusts up to 98kmh were recorded around Wellington city.

The strongest winds recorded on the Kapiti Coast were 80kmh but Walsh said that did not mean there was no tornado.

"Mini tornados, by their very nature, are mini. They're not the sort of tornados you see in the United States that are hundreds of metres across. They can be as small as 10 metres."

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The front that crossed the North Island yesterday certainly had the potential to cause a tornado, she said. The front was expected to have cleared in most places by this morning, with fine weather predicted for most of the week.

BATH TIME TURNS FRIGHTENING

Bathing her granddaughter when yesterday's mini- tornado ripped through Raumati South, Mary Ballingall heard a tremendous noise like a steam train and thought it was another earthquake.

"I was trying to work out in my head what the hell you are supposed to do with a child in the bath - drop, cover, hold- no. By the time I tried to process it, it was gone and I heard the men outside saying bloody hell, what's gone on here?"

Mrs Ballingall reassured her 6 year old granddaughter to stop her panicking before looking at the damage the tornado inflicted when it swept through the Kapiti settlement just after 5pm on Sunday.

"It was very scary. It was hammering down with rain. There was stuff all over the road - branches, bits of fence," she said.

Part of a large tree fell on top of their sleepout, part of their boundary fence was smashed and left scattered over their neighbour's driveway, their trampoline was picked up and dumped at other side of their backyard and their patio furniture was lifted up and dropped back down again.

Moving out from England about a month ago, they first experienced the recent earthquake, which smashed ornaments and pictures in their house, before the twister struck yesterday.

"We knew what to do in the earthquake, to drop, cover and hold, saw the furniture knocked over. After the tornado, we thought what does this mean, will we get another earthquake? What is going on? We had no way of relating it to anything in England." she said.

The tornado lifted part of her neighbour's roof and ripped a tree in half in their front yard. 

Mrs Ballingal contacted her insurance company today and was waiting for an assessment of the damage.

The fire service was called to two houses in Raumati South, after their roofs were lifted by the high winds.

Mrs Ballingal's Tiromoana St neighbour Pat Duff said the mini-tornado lifted part of their roof and dumped it back down again.

"The noise was very scary. One minute it was a beautiful day and we had the ranch slider open, the next minute the curtains were flapping like a flag," Mrs Duff said.

Insurance assessors were visiting her home today.

There were also reports of a "tornado-like funnel of wind" east of Foxton at about 4.45pm the same day.

- The Dominion Post

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