Tornado warning lifted for North Island

Last updated 10:37 11/07/2011

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A severe thunderstorm warning for the lower North Island has been lifted, but heavy rain and snow to low levels is still expected.

LATEST: The MetService this morning forecast large hail, damaging wind and possible tornados from the storms, but lifted the advisory shortly after 9am.

However, wild and wintry weather continues to lash the country, with police warning drivers to take extreme caution, especially those in high-sided vehicles and motorcycles travelling over the Rimutaka Hill road near Wellington.

Fire spokesman David Meikle said they already had reports of two trampolines, one in Porirua and one in Titahi Bay, taking off due to the wind.

In the South Island a band of 50 to 60 trees had been toppled by strong gusts on State Highway 6 near Inangahua, initially blocking one lane of the road, Nelson police said. Heavy thundery rain was expected to reach warning thresholds in the ranges across the central North Island today.

Temperatures would plummet as a cold front swept north today.

Continuing cold conditions and snow showers were likely to result in large amounts of snow accumulating above 200 or 300 metres in Fiordland and above 400 or 500 metres in South Westland, the MetService said.

Queenstown was yesterday blanketed in snow, with more expected to fall today.

Snow was also expected to affect higher roads and alpine passes in the South Island, with Arthur's, Lindis and Haast passes only open to those with chains.

State Highway 94 to Milford Sound also required chains, with the road closed from Knob's flat.

The forecast for Auckland was relatively calmer with frequent showers predicted throughout the day.

The showers were expected to get heavier toward evening with squally thunderstorms possible.

On the coast and at sea, the MetService has posted gale warnings for Manukau and Waitemata harbours, Hauraki Gulf and from Bream Head to Cape Colville.

The warnings said there would be northwest winds 25 knots gusting 35 knots, rising to 30 knots gusting 40 knots this morning, with squalls "gusting 60 knots associated with developing thunderstorms from this evening".

The weather caused problems at the weekend north of Auckland, with a windsurfer forced to swim ashore at Manly Beach after he lost his sail in high winds - one of a number of serious mishaps at sea.

CLEAN-UP AFTER TORNADO

The wintry weather cames as Waikanae residents picked up the pieces in the wake of another tornado.

Several people were taken to hospital after the twister swept in from Peka Peka beach at 4pm on Saturday, ripping up dozens of trees, destroying sheds and overturning cars.

George Mason shielded his seven-year-old granddaughter as the tornado struck a caravan they were sitting in and falling trees crushed its roof. His 30-year-old daughter was trapped but escaped with bruising and possible concussion.

Mason was visiting when the storm struck.

"Suddenly there was an on-rush of rain, hail and wind and a huge crash - all the trees came crashing down on us in one go.
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"My granddaughter was thrown into a corner under the window. I shielded her and tried to keep her there; she was panicking and trying to get out.

"My daughter was trapped in a narrow gap and thought she could not move, but we managed to crawl out. Even now she does not know how she got out."

Firefighters chainsawed a path through fallen trees to carry his daughter out on a stretcher.

She was taken to Wellington Hospital, and discharged late on Saturday night. "There are no bones broken but she is very bruised, can hardly move; there may be some concussion. You look at all this [devastation] and think you are glad we are all alive. The emergency services did a fantastic job."

Clive Williams heard most of a neighbour's five-by-10-metre aluminium shed hurtle into the side of their home.

"There was an almighty bang. I thought the roof had gone."

The twister uprooted, flattened and severed many large trees, including a 20-metre gum."If it had been a couple of metres south it would have taken us out," he said.

Nearby, friends were busy with chainsaws and fencing equipment repairing deer fences and clearing uprooted plants.

About 80 Waikanae homes were still without power yesterday afternoon, Electra spokesman Ross Leggett said. Power was restored to all but two or three by the evening.

- KIRSTY JOHNSTON and MICHAEL FIELD/Stuff, with THE DOMINION POST

- Stuff

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