Cyclone-strength winds bring chaos
Heavy rain which caused havoc in the upper North Island is continuing to disrupt roads and power supplies as it moves south.
Thousands of households remain without power in Auckland after cyclone-strength winds toppled trees and brought down power lines overnight.
A mud slip on State Highway 29 across the Kaimai Ranges has blocked both lanes with a 1.5m-high wall of mud and vegetation.
Police urged motorists to avoid the road, and were unclear how long contractors would take to clear the road.
Earlier the weather also caused damage in Northland, Waikato and the Coromandel Peninsula.
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Emergency services were kept busy as winds gusting up to 170kmh brought down trees, cut power, damaged properties and smashed boats.
Some Aucklanders are still without power, almost 24 hours after cyclone-strength winds blasted the city.
At the height of the outages, about 70,000 premises were without power.
Vector crews were working to restore power to about 9,700 remaining customers out of the 40,000 who were cut off earlier today.
On the Auckland network, a handful of customers remain out, down from 6,000 this morning.
Between 7am and 2pm today Auckland emergency services received nearly 500 calls. In the Bay of Plenty and Waikato there were more than 100 callouts and seven in the Northland.
Multiple traffic lights are out in the North Shore and Mt Wellington due to a power transformer blowing out this afternoon, contributing to commuter chaos in the wake of the storm.
The power outages also caused many Auckland schools to shut down, including Oratia District School which closed because the lack of power affected its sewerage system.
Auckland Civil Defence Controller Clive Manly says the city was hit very badly by extreme winds, with a large number of trees impacted.
“We haven’t seen this kind of widespread damage in a long time from wind. What was different about this event was that it was mainly wind so it was probably the worst since the tornados in Albany a year or so ago.”
Shortland Street actors rehearsed in the dark this morning, as power cuts affected their Henderson studio. Main shooting was being done on location, but at South Pacific Studios, actors who weren't required on set went over their lines by torchlight until electricity was restored around midday.
AA Insurance has already received over 100 storm damage claims for home, contents and car damage, with the majority of claims from Auckland.
Ferry services on the North Shore were disrupted with power outages causing ticket scanning machines to fail. Extensive damage to its wharf means the Bayswater ferry is unable to run until Monday.
Tim Palmer, Operations Manager for Fullers ferry services, says customers are being issued one-way tickets at the same price as a hop fare until power returns.
As the bad weather moves down the North Island, those expecting the storms to hit should make preparations for their homes.
Gisborne Civil Defence controller Peter Higgs said that with about a dozen roads closed in the district, and a major slip at Devil’s Elbow south of Wairoa, motorists should check road conditions before heading out.
Over the past 18 hours, more than 190mm of rain had fallen in areas north of Tolaga Bay and more than 210mm to the south-west.
The Hikuwai River north of Tolaga Bay was expected to reach 10 metres overnight. Evacuations were likely if the river reached 12m, Higgs said.
A close eye was also being kept on the Waimata River in the city, Higgs said.
Five Gisborne schools were closed early today as a result of the weather.
In Tauranga, the rain had caused a number of road and state highway closures.
SH29 at Poike, Tauranga, flooded in the late afternoon and was impassable so it was closed.
Ohauiti Road at Ohauiti, south of Tauranga, was closed following a slip and three other roads were affected by slips or surface flooding.
At the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which was forced closed, wind gusts reached 130kmh and toppled a truck, and at the Tiritiri Lighthouse in the Hauraki Gulf, up to 170kmh.
On the Whangaparaoa peninsula the average wind speed was 104kmh.
"I have some pretty high figures and I think it was one of the windiest nights," MetService meteorologist John Law said.
"Cyclone category one or two would have an average wind speed of 89kmh to 117kmh. So that puts you into that category but that is not a direct comparison," Law said.
Auckland had 60 millimetres to 70mm of rain in 24 hours.
TREES, POWER LINES DOWN
The power outages were caused by three severe wind periods throughout the night blowing sodden vegetation on to lines or bringing trees down across lines, the last of those being about 3am this morning, Vector said.
Crews were assessing damage caused to lines reportedly by letterboxes, trampolines and garden furniture being blown into them.
At least one person was injured by a falling tree, a child hit when a tree crashed through the roof of a house in Manly, on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula north of Auckland. The child was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Many of the navy's sailors got unscheduled leave after the storm blacked-out its main base in Auckland.
Lieutenant Commander Victoria Rendall said hundreds of non-essential staff were sent home from the Devonport Naval Base.
WIDESPREAD WEATHER HAVOC
As the rain eased over Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel, MetService lifted its severe weather warnings for these areas.
A watch was now in place for possible southeast gales towards Buller, down through Taranaki and the North Island high country throughout today.
"Also what we've got to watch out for is some of that wet weather feeding in towards the Bay of Plenty and also around towards Gisborne and the Hawke's Bay," Law said.
The eastern coast would be the last people to see things "clear off", and heading through to the weekend painted a better picture.
"There's still a few showers about today but tomorrow evening the rain clears off and there's a better day in store for Friday," he said.
"Things should be improving, but just keep an eye on the latest watches."
Emergency services were called to free a person trapped under a damaged house at Wharekaho, near Whitianga overnight.
Police closed Blacksmith Lane in Whitianga due to flying roof iron as firefighters worked to secure the roofs. State Highway 25 south of Whitianga, and the roads near Tairua and south of Thames were flooded.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said gusts in Coromandel peaked at 190kmh