It took less than a minute.
Huddled in cupboards, sheltered in stairways, crouched low, the residents of a small West Auckland street were faced with a terrifying force that tore their neighbourhood to pieces.
With just a few weeks to Christmas, Debbie Booty lost almost everything.
Her hands tremble as she takes us through her destroyed house. She has lived there for two years with her husband and teenage sons.
Glass crunches under our feet. Without a roof to keep the downpour out, the carpet and walls are soaked.
She points up and we see the darkened clouds of the afternoon sky.
Mrs Booty was home alone when the tornado hit. Her house was in the centre of the devastation.
Just across the road, where construction has been under way for the past year on one of the biggest joint primary and secondary school campuses in the country, two workers died as a concrete block crushed their truck.
Mrs Booty was forced to shelter in a wardrobe, willing it to be over. "I'm just shaking," she says. "I might be in shock."
She points to another broken window, a wall torn in the force of the wind, doors left hanging in the wind.
A nervous laugh.
As we get to the final bedroom, she grips the window sill.
An army officer wanders past outside and asks if everyone is accounted for.
"Yes," she yells back. She turns to me. "I haven't seen the cat. I hope that cat is OK."
Looking out to her backyard, I can see every house. Fences no longer block the view. Every tree has been uprooted. The metal washing line now twisted on the ground. Only the barbecue, covered with a waterproof cover, appears intact.
Mrs Booty says her husband, who is in the air force, has only seen this type of destruction when cleaning up after tsunamis in the Pacific.
Many of the residents of Wallingford Way are air force families and were the first on the scene.
Inside the police cordon, the wooden homes that lined the street have been snapped like twigs.
Pairs of eyes stare out from houses. They stare through gaping holes where the windows once were.
Others clutch a single bag of clothing as they are evacuated from their homes.
The rain has flooded the streets and every downpour sends another warning of a possible second tornado.
A chainsaw can be heard tearing through a branch. Sirens and the pounding rain echo through the street. The sheer force of the wind has squashed every street sign against the ground.
Few roofs remain intact. One aluminum roof is curled in a frontyard. Broken glass and 10-metre-tall trees are strewn across the street.
Emergency services and army personnel go door to door, checking for survivors and casualties.
For many residents, their homes no longer provide any safety.
A red ‘X' has been painted on condemned houses.
Nearly 250 residents from uninhabitable homes had been given shelter at the Whenuapai air force base.
Across the road from Mrs Booty's home, the concrete slabs that once formed the school wall have crushed a truck. Three constructions workers who had been at the site said the primary school provided shelter for them.
Workers on the other side were not so lucky. One of the men said they were initially not aware of the full extent of the destruction.
"It hit really quickly. Everything was vibrating and the scaffolding came down. When it hit, the visibility went really poor. You couldn't see anything."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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