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Weather chaos hits both islands

Last updated 20:06 02/08/2014
Sarah Shaw's tornado pic
SARAH SHAW/Facebook
TWISTER? Sarah Shaw posted this picture to Facebook.

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Wild weather hitting both islands has torn roofs from homes and caused flight cancellations, as a tornado on the South Island's West Coast terrified residents and left them grateful to be alive. 

Firefighters were called to six calls to homes in Greymouth on the South Island's West Coast after reports of roofs flying off. There were no reports of injury. 

A tornado hit in Blaketown, Greymouth, although much damage appeared to be due to high winds.

Gale force winds also lashed Wellington, causing several flights to be cancelled. An Island Bay home also lost its roof. 

MetService meteorologist David Miller said gusts of up to 100kmh had been recorded at Wellington Airport today. On Mt Kaukau, 130kmh was recorded, precisely the wind speed forecast.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn visited the scene this evening in Blaketown and spoke with some of the evacuated residents.

One woman who lived in Doyle St told him that she had been sitting in her lounge about 5pm when she heard a terrifying roar heading in her direction.

''Next thing she was standing in her lounge with no roof.''

While it was a traumatic experience, she was grateful to be alive, he said.

Residents from three houses had been evacuated because of significant damage suffered in the tornado.

About three or four other houses had also been damaged in the area, which was close to where another tornado hit in 2005, causing $10 million of damage. 

The Fire Service said the worst hit streets in Blaketown were Rigg, Doyle and O'Grady streets, an area that suffered much damage when the tail end of Cyclone Ita struck in April.

The combination of thunderstorms and strong winds making landfall on the West Coast means small tornadoes are not uncommon.

Other West Coasters turned to social media to talk about the wild weather.

''There was debris in the air above Cobden. [ . . .] It seemed like it was very close, but it was actually over the other side of the river,'' wrote Daniel Lowe on Facebook.

Ingrid Dugand wrote on the same Facebook page: ''Impressive but scary to see all that iron flying about. Now in darkness as a transformer then blew up.''

MetService said conditions on the West Coast had been perfect to form a tornado and Sarah Shaw's photo appeared to show a small twister.

''I think it would have weakened quickly,'' meteorologist Andy Downs said.

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In the North Island, the Fire Service said Hutt City Council had to call in contractors to repair Eastbourne Library's roof after it started lifting in the strong winds this evening.

Wellington Airport spokeswoman Briarley Kirk said the wild weather forced Virgin Airlines to cancel a flight from Brisbane to Wellington last night, which meant today's return flight back to Queensland was also cancelled.

Flights by several smaller aircraft flights had also been cancelled, including an Air New Zealand flight from Queenstown this afternoon and a Sounds Air flight to Blenheim at 5.30pm, which meant the return flight back to the Capital at 6.40pm was also cancelled.

Kirk encouraged travellers to check the airport's website and also with airlines to see whether their flights were affected.

A suspected gas leak in Greymouth turned out to be a false alarm brought on by bad weather affecting a sensor system at Rock Gas.

Fire Service central communications shift manager Chris Dalton said firefighters were called out to the coastal suburb of Island Bay this afternoon after a roof started to lift.

Firefighters secured it down for the owner.

The MetService's warning noted north-west winds up to 130kmh could blast Canterbury and Marlborough in the South Island today, as well as Wellington, Wairarapa and Taihape, ahead of a front moving northeast over the country, which also brought heavy rain to the lower North Island.

Miller said the winds were expected to die back in the lower North Island by about midnight and a southerly change would hit late tomorrow morning, bringing occasional showers and cooler temperatures.

Snow showers were predicted down to 1200m tomorrow night in the lower North Island but the snow level was likely to lower to 1000m on Monday night, which he said could bring a scattering of snow to the highest point of the Desert Rd.

A severe weather warning has been issued by MetService today for the Taranaki region.Heavy rain is expected until early tomorrow morning.

Mt Taranaki is expected to receive 200mm to 300mm of rain near the summit and around 150mm to 200mm at lower levels, on top of what has already fallen.

The Taranaki Regional Council said flooding may occur in some river systems and urged motorists to use caution as surface flooding was also likely in some areas.

- Stuff

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