Rotorua tornado: Calves tossed into the air

THE AFTERMATH: Residents watch firefighters assess damage from the tornado.
THE AFTERMATH: Residents watch firefighters assess damage from the tornado.

Calves were sent flying, horses were hurt, and schoolchildren were left stranded at a remote riding school near Rotorua after a tornado tore through the area.

Wendy Branch, who manages a riding school known as The Farmhouse, said she saw calves being tossed in the air near Hamurana, about 20 kilometres northwest of Rotorua.

At the riding school, in Sunnex Rd, a trampoline was blown through the wall of the house where she and her husband live, causing extensive damage and a large hole in the roof. Some of the 80 horses they care for sustained injuries, she said.

Volunteer firefighter Mike Lepper said two or three horses were thought to have been struck by lightning, and a vet was assessing whether they would be put down.

About 40 children and 13 adults were left stranded in the riding school's main building for several hours after a 45-metre-high gum tree was blown over, completely blocking Sunnex Rd.

The tree brought down power lines, cutting power to the street and several other rural areas south of Rotorua. About 200 homes in total were affected.

Mr Lepper said the children, who were on a school camp from Mokoia Intermediate in Rotorua, were out riding when the tornado hit about 3.20pm and had to be taken back to the safety of the riding school.

No-one was harmed, he said. "All the children were wet and cold, but we got them all dressed and warm, and they've had a hot feed up there as well."

The storm seemed to have "two arms to it".

"It just came down the valley and took out everything in its sight," Mr Lepper said.

"It picked up trampolines and smashed them against buildings; we had one cottage with a tree implanted on it."

Sunnex Rd resident Anne Bannan said the tornado was terrifying. "I've never seen anything like it . . . I just stayed inside. There was nothing you could do.

"There was no way you'd venture out in it - you would have got blown away."

There was water running "like a river" across the properties, she said. "It was a real torrent going through."

Grant Collins said a caravan was hit by flash flooding near his home in Ngongotaha, south of Hamurana, and swept about 50 metres.

The Dominion Post