Twisters hit Kaikoura as gales, rain batter country
MICHELLE COOKE, CLIO FRANCIS, STACEY KIRK, MAEVE RYAN AND EMMA DANGERFIELD
Ray Keall was standing inside his lounge watching when a huge gust of wind blew a neighbouring Kaikoura property's roof across the road on to his house.
And he thought to himself: ''This is going to be quite an exciting day."
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Kaikoura residents reported seeing two twisters this morning, as the country was lashed by gales and heavy rain.
Elsewhere, Southland residents were threatened by flooding, a bridge to Te Anau was washed out and firefighters were called to secure roofs in Wellington.
Keall said he had lived in Kaikoura for 22 years and never felt a "gust so fierce".
He was at his Beach Rd home, drinking a cup of tea and considering whether or not to play golf, when the roof was blown across the road.
"I looked across the street and saw the whole roof coming across towards the house."
Keall's front fence was flattened and his house could barely be seen under the roof, which was sitting on top of it.
Holiday makers at Brooke House B&B, which is directly behind Keall's house, said they could see the drama unfold from the kitchen on the second floor of the building.
Phil Higgins, from Richmond, near Nelson, said he had been woken initially by "one hell of a gust'' at about 5.30am. At about 9am he and his friends were sitting in the kitchen having breakfast when they heard the wind coming.
"Then I saw the roof iron coming across the road. It took out the power lines and there was a flash, like lightning, and I told everyone to get down because I thought we were going to cop it.''
Colonial Court Motel manager Matt Day said two small twisters had hit.
"One happened at 6 this morning and the other one was at 8.40."
He had seen the roof resting on Keall's property.
"It was right beside us. A roof across the road from us has been ripped off and blown across the road into the house next door. It took out some of the powerlines.
"One of the guys staying here was game enough to go outside and saw two mini twisters.''
Power lines had been strewn across the road and traffic had been stopped for about half an hour, he said.
Next door to Keall's house was the New Life Church, which also copped some damage from the flying roof.
Pastor Brent Fearnley said a large window at the front of their children's church had been smashed.
"I've yet to head down there, but as I understand the window of the children's church is damaged.
"Thankfully it's on the side which is generally sheltered from the hardest winds, but gusts quite often scream up Beach Rd."
He said it sounded like "nothing a bit of ply wood wouldn't hold tight", until it could be repaired.
Sergeant Julian Lewis, of Kaikoura police, said it was an extreme wind gust which lifted the roof, rather than a mini tornado. No one was injured.
Power was cut in many areas, with Mainpower confirming a number of power lines came down in the wind.
The twisters were likely to be wind eddies, MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said.
"Some twist and spin around and that's what happens when you get a strong gust coming through," Corbett said.
"It's not a full tornado but more a straight-lined wind twisted off on its edges... at times you can see the cloud looking like a funnel. They're short lived, they're not like the ones we see in the States."
Sections of the Milford Track were washed out, but the Department of Conservation expected all trampers booked to walk it would continue as planned.
Flooding was widespread within Fiordland National Park as a result of the storm, which peaked between 9pm and midnight.
"While the full extent of the damage is still being determined we are doing everything within our ability to keep the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler up and running," DOC spokesperson Annie Wallace said.
"Staff are being flown into the Milford Track to replace damaged bridges, and trampers are being flown over a short section of track before Mackinnon Pass."
Independent and guided walkers were crossing the pass together due to high winds on the saddle.
Communication with the track had been made more difficult after a prolonged electrical storm damaged the radio repeater on the track.
On the Kepler Track, the roar of rocks could be heard crashing down the Iris Burn River during the night, and the river flooded across the track.
Flooding had closed the Routeburn Track midway along at the Lake Mackenzie outlet. Trampers could continue going on to the track but might have to come out the same way they went in, depending when flood levels went down.
GALES STRIKE BOTH ISLANDS
Wind howled in Wellington and eastern areas this morning, with gusts in excess of 130kmh hammering the capital.
Fire service shift manager Murray Dunbar said between 7.30am and 8am firefighters were called to secure roofs that were lifting in the Wellington suburbs of Karori and Kilbirnie.
While the worst of the weather may be gone for now, the next rough patch looks to be only a few days away.
In a severe weather outlook issued shortly before 2.30pm, MetService said an active front with thunderstorms likely, was expected to bring significant rainfall to central and northern Fiordland and Westland on Sunday.
On Monday, another wave or low travelling down the front could bring a 9 to 12-hour shot of heavy northwesterly rain to Taranaki and the high country west of Lake Taupo.
Ahead of that front, to the northeast over much of the North Island, strong northwest winds were expected, likely to be strongest over Hawke's Bay and Gisborne later in the day.
HUGE GUST HITS MT HUTT
Last night Mt Hutt recorded the country's strongest windspeed with a 230kmh gust.
The top of Wellington's Rimutaka Hill had gusts of 133kmh overnight through to about 7.30am, while the inner-city suburb of Kelburn had gusts of 122kmh.
A 4am gust at Wellington Airport reached 105kmh.
In the Southland town of Gore, residents were up in the middle of the night protecting their homes from surface flooding and facing the prospect of having to evacuate.
The Gore District Council, Fire Service and police worked with residents to protect their homes.
Gore Fire Brigade chief fire officer Steve Lee said some residents narrowly escaped having to be evacuated as 22 rural fire service volunteers worked through the night to pump water away from seven properties.
Flooding in Southland also washed out the Whitestone River Bridge on State Highway 94, between Lumsden and Te Anau, the New Zealand Transport Agency reported. Diversions were in place.
In a 1pm update NZTA acting southern region director Ian Duncan said SH94 from Lumsden to Te Anau remained closed as a result of the bridge approach washout.
"Until water levels at the bridge have receded, we are unable to fully assess the damage and begin temporarily repairs."
SH6 was likely to be closed for the remainder of the day, following the discovery of two sizeable slips - one at Pivot Creek, 10kms north of the Haast Pass summit and the other near the Gates of Haast.
Elsewhere on SH6 contractors had cleared and temporarily repaired three washouts near Makarora by early afternoon.
SH73 remained closed from Cass to Arthur's Pass because of a slip near Arthur's Pass. SH73 had re-opened on the West Coast side of Arthur's Pass.
SH94 Milford Road, from Cascade Creek to Milford Sound, was expected to open around 3pm today.
The road would close again at 7pm, as had been the case since the end of November because of safety concerns with rock fall risks in the area
While Southland experienced heavy rainfall overnight, it was Mount Cook that received the most.
Gore recorded 53.8mm of rainfall, however a whopping 358mm was recorded at Mt Cook Airport in the 24 hours until 7am.
Milford Sound and the Alpine area on the West Coast also received more than 300mm in 24 hours, Brenstrum said.