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Three people are dead and seven injured after a tornado ripped through the Auckland suburb of Hobsonville, with police ordering people to shelter in their homes amid fears of further twisters.
The tornado, which hit about 12.15pm, ripped roofs from houses, toppled trees and sent debris flying on to cars.
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Hobsonville Point residents have been ordered to take shelter in their homes and cars with the MetService warning of the potential for further tornadoes.
Police have set up an operational base at the worst-hit Whenuapai.
Power is out in the Hobsonville shops.
Toni Hayward, administrator at the Open Wananga Office in Hobsonville saw the tornado.
"It came right through here and picked stuff up an through it on the road."
"The sky went all dark and there was a big clap of thunder, all the trees were flattened."
The New Zealand Transport Agency said State Highway 18, the upper harbour motorway, was closed between Brigham Creek Rd and Greenhithe Rd due to debris on the road.
Ambulance staff reported two deaths from the storm happened at a construction site in West Auckland. A third death was later confirmed.
There are reports of multiple injuries across the northwestern suburbs. A construction worker on a new high school site at Hobsonville told Radio New Zealand there were people missing and many people injured.
"Pretty bad," a man, quoted only as Sam, said.
"We did a head count, I think there are a couple of people missing."
An ambulance spokeswoman said five crews were attending different scenes.
"We are currently assessing seven patients all in and around Hobsonville."
Twenty fire trucks are dealing with 80 properties mainly in Hobsonville and surrounding west Auckland suburbs.
Roofs being blown off and flooding are the main problems being dealt with, fire communications shift manager Peter Stevenson said.
Earlier reports indicated people were trapped but they have since been rescued.
There are potentially others trapped, Stevenson said.
North Shore Hospital’s emergency department is assessing four patients with tornado injuries, though their status or the type of injury is not yet known.
Patients are being sent to North Shore because it has a larger emergency department than Waitakere.
Waitakere Hospital has suffered surface flooding in an outpatient area.
No one has been evacuated and the hospital is functioning as normal, communications spokeswoman Ashley Campbell said.
Brendan Muir, who is working at Hobsonville Point, said he was sitting in a ute when the tornado hit.
"It was just mayhem. I had to put my seat belt on, I thought it was going to flip."
Muir said that, around him, he could see trees "that looked like a plane had crashed into them", walls and fences knocked down and Portaloos scattered about.
He said for about 10 minutes there were so many sirens sounding it "seemed like 9/11".
Despite threats of another tornado on the way, Muir said he was back pouring concrete.
The storm has destroyed houses in the air force's married quarters in Clark Rd, Hobsonville.
A witness said the roof had been ripped form at least one house, and a tree had smashed through the kitchen of a house nearby.
Trees gave been uprooted, a trampoline flipped and fences crushed by the force.
Frances Schuster said the tornado only lasted 12 seconds but was terrifying.
"It went blurry for a while, it just happened so fast. It was really loud and the windows were shaking."
Part of a roof fell on to her car.
Tracey Standring, human resources manager at Hawkins Construction, said staff from the company were working on the Hobsonville Point School construction site when a tornado came through the site.
She was unable to provide more information about any damage.
There has been an unconfirmed report that a woman lost her house in the tornado.
The Defence Force base at Whenuapai in West Auckland has been hit by the storm.
Against the sound of sirens, the base operations said "we are very busy, cannot talk."
PM, MAYOR RESPOND
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said he is being kept informed of the situation.
"Emergency services are currently responding. People are being advised to remain indoors and to avoid the area, if possible."
She added: "The Prime Minister will continue to assess the situation as information becomes available throughout the day."
Auckland Mayor Len Brown says he was very concerned at casualties on Hobsonville Point.
"Also reports of surface flooding and damage in other parts of Auckland. Please stay safe and if possible stay inside until the weather clears," he said on his Facebook page.
CONDITIONS 'RIGHT' FOR TORNADO
MetService spokesman Daniel Corbett said the organisation had not confirmed there had been a tornado but conditions were right for small tornados to develop.
"Looking at the radar, we're seeing a line of thunder storms," he said.
Around 1pm the middle of a front was just moving onto central parts of Auckland. Converging winds at the front were favourable.
"It's certainly possible and over the next couple of hours converging winds within the front could allow the potential for these small things to happen," Corbett said.
There was also a risk of heavy downpours, strong winds, and hail.
There are reports of surface flooding across Auckland as a predicted thunderstorm batters the area.
The heavy weather was caused by a band of bad weather that was moving in from the west.
Corbett said the weather system was moving across the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour and would hit central Auckland until 2pm.
The front was expected to bring up to 15mm of rain as well as thunder and lightning.
- The Marlborough Express