Southerly buster hits Wellington

Last updated 08:19 13/03/2010

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The clean-up begins today following a fierce southerly storm through central NZ, which left a trail of damage in its wake and at least two people injured.

The "southerly buster" ripped through the top of the South Island into Wellington about 4.30pm, bringing gusts of up to 130kmh and dumping up to 25 millimetres of rain – a week's worth – in just a few hours.

A mini-tornado ripped off roofs, tore out trees and cut power to thousands as emergency services scrambled to deal with hundreds of calls.

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A Waikanae man was flown to hospital last night after he suffered an electric shock from fallen powerlines on a road north of Wellington.

The 63-year-old had been directing traffic around the downed powerlines in Paraparaumu when he was struck about 9pm.

He was taken by ambulance to a nearby carpark where he was flown to Wellington Hospital by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Commuters were also stranded after the Hutt train line was blocked by fallen trees and surface flooding brought peak-hour traffic to a crawl.

Temperatures dropped from 18.5 celsius to 8.5C within 10 minutes before winds left a trail of debris through the city.

In Marlborough, firefighters used chainsaws to free a teenage boy trapped after a tree fell on him at Rarangi, near Blenheim. He was flown to Wairau Hospital with leg injuries.

John Bell, who runs Time Cinema in Lyall Bay, said a six-by-six-metre section was blown off the roof.

A fire crew had strung a canvas cover up, but water was still leaking into the projection area, flooding seats and the floor. "As we speak, water is pouring into the theatre," he said last night.

A large chunk of Samuel Marsden Collegiate's auditorium roof in Karori was blown off, terrifying a group of pupils and staff who were inside.

The school hoped repairs could begin today with the school open again by Monday, Radio New Zealand reported.

Maritime police were kept busy when a yacht race turned into a rescue mission as 13 boats were caught out in Wellington Harbour. Three had to be towed back to shore. Police also started a search for a missing kayaker about 4.30pm, after someone reported seeing a person in trouble. They called it off about 7pm after the "kayaker" turned out to be a buoy.

Tugs had to help get the Interisland ferry Kaitaki to its Aotea Quay dock after a mooring rope snapped.

Onshore, thousands of Upper Hutt and Masterton commuters were stranded when trees fell across the Hutt Valley line at 4.40pm north of Waterloo Station. Passengers were told bus replacements were unlikely to be available at short notice.

The storm also caused chaos on the Kapiti Coast and in Wairarapa, knocking out power to thousands of households.

Jason Charles, of Featherston, was lucky to escape injury when a huge tree came down on his car as he drove down Treadwell St in Naenae. "I saw a couple of branches thrashing around and then it just came down and crushed my car," he said. "It's just good to be alive."

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The storm rapidly moved up the North Island and hit Hawke's Bay by mid-evening.

In Martinborough, winds and torrential rain could not have come at a worse time for the wine industry, with grape harvesting beginning this month.

MetService forecaster Chris Noble said the storm was called a strong southerly change, also known as a "southerly buster", which usually hit when warm weather was followed by very cold weather.

- The Dominion Post

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