Northland cops it as storm sweeps island
A powerful storm has cut a swathe across the North Island, cutting power to tens of thousands of homes, trapping skiers and making driving hazardous.
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Weather forecasters predicted gale force winds would continue across much of the North Island in the next 20 hours as the storm, tipped to be one of the worst in 10 years, moved over the country.
Northland was hit hard first, with wind gusts of up to 130kmh bringing down trees and power lines as the storm made landfall.
Thousands of homes were without power in the region, and when the storm moved down the country it took out power to 53,000 homes in Rodney, Waitakere and the North Shore.
There were another 7000 without power in Auckland in Howick, Otara, Clevedon, Mangere and parts of Waiheke Island, power company Vector said.
Ten thousand skiers headed up Mt Ruapehu in the central North Island and got caught when the fields closed at 10.30am.
Police said 100 vehicles were still in carparks at Whakapapa by 3pm and directed people to stay in their cars while skifield staff worked from carpark to carpark leading cars down the mountain in groups of five.
Skifield operators hope to reopen again tomorrow.
Vector warned of extended outages as conditions were too dangerous for crews and told the public to stay clear of fallen lines.
The Far North District Council reported that a river had burst its banks near the township of Panguru, on the northern side of Hokianga Harbour, and up to 35 people had been evacuated.
One witness reported water up to letterbox-level.
In the middle of the day, Whangarei District Civil Defence cleared the central business district as concern mounted about surface flooding combining with high tide. High winds hampered the work of linesmen and delays were inevitable in restoring power, said Vector communications manager Philippa White.
Police warned drivers of high wind gusts on the harbour bridge and debris, including roofing iron blown off houses, strewn across the southern motorway.
The Desert Rd and Napier to Taihape road were closed due to heavy snow.
A warning went out tonight to residents of the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains to avoid travelling unless necessary as the storm buffeted the area. State Highway 25 south of Thames is closed.
The Kauaeranga River in the Coromandel broke its banks and flooded the highway.
State Highway 2 at Waikino was also closed due to fallen trees.
MetService described the storm as "extremely rare and nasty", predicting that in the 24 hours up to midday tomorrow up to 200mm of rain would fall in the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, with slightly less north of Auckland.
The storm is expected to be lying off East Cape by tomorrow morning.
"It is one of the largest and deepest lows we've seen for some years," said MetService spokesman Peter Kreft.
Many planning to watch the Bledisloe Cup rugby test between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Sydney tonight might also be in for a disappointing and frustrating time.
The heavy rain was expected to interfere with the live Sky digital broadcast of the test, due to begin at 10.05pm.