Storm 'worse than Bola'

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014
shirley
NICK REED/Fairfax NZ
SHAMBLES: Shirley McLean, 80, with what remains of her Simpsons Beach home, near Whitianga.

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A grandmother's cosy beachfront home was torn to pieces in a storm that's being described as worse than Cyclone Bola.

Shirley McLean, 80, felt the brunt of the fierce winds that struck the Coromandel in the early hours of yesterday.

Road signs were snapped and highways flooded across the peninsula. A massive near century-old pine tree was ripped out of the ground on the Whitianga beachfront.

And McLean's little home crumpled under the pressure of winds that blew straight in from the sea over Simpsons Beach and up to her small cottage on a hill at the southern end.

She escaped the carnage after the ranchslider caved in, raining glass into her lounge. When she saw what remained after daybreak, her heart broke.

Her home was full of memories, she said. Her parents built it in 1967 and it withstood many a storm, including the benchmark, Bola, in 1988.

"It was such a cosy little place and the view - it was heartbreaking."

McLean, who lives with her two cats Bill and Ben, said she stayed up until about 11pm on Tuesday night and a while later the storm cranked up a gear.

"It was driving rain. It was from the northeast but when it moved around to the east coming off the sea, that's when all the trouble started.

"My bedroom's down the far end and I heard glass breaking on the front and I thought, well, it's time I get out of here."

It was the second bullet McLean has dodged. Two years ago she had a lung removed at Waikato Hospital. Her only form of communication yesterday was the St John emergency alarm on her wrist and she used it.

Fire brigades from Cooks Beach and Whitianga also responded at 3.40am to what they initially thought was someone trapped in a destroyed house.

Yet McLean was up and about in her dressing gown with St John staff when they arrived. They evacuated her to the more sturdy homestead nearby where she spent the night.

Once darkness lifted, the storm's power was clear.

The roof had been blown clean off and was pinned against a pohutukawa tree. The microwave had been knocked off the fridge and framed photographs of McLean's children and grandchildren getting married and capped were strewn on the floor.

She gathered those up first, and stood them to dry in her room, where the ceiling remained intact.

The wind that wrought so much damage wasn't gusty, it was continuous, McLean said - then it strengthened.

"I've been there 31 years. I think the wind was stronger than Bola. There was no damage then."

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Other residents agreed as they picked up wayward gutters and pounced on free firewood.

McLean has no insurance on her cottage, yet she was surrounded by family yesterday as they erected a tarpaulin to keep her surviving belongings safe from the elements.

They'll probably demolish it and rebuild, McLean said.

She wasn't interested in getting outside help.

"There's a lot of people worse off than me - there's no use crying about it." 

- Waikato Times

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