Wild winds and thunder storms which tore across the South Island today have left a potentially multi-million dollar trail of destruction in their wake.
The storm-force north-west winds - a record 251.9 kilometres per hour was recorded on the Mt Hutt summit - sparked countless fires, uprooted trees, felled power lines, tore roofs off buildings and overturned a truck, while a lightning strike set a West Coast house on fire.
Vast areas of Canterbury are tonight without power, including in Christchurch, Rangiora, Rolleston and Dunsandel, with outages affecting upwards of 28,000 people.
Christchurch Airport took flights destined for Dunedin and Queenstown, but at 10.15pm said it was looking to divert its own inbound flights north.
A reprieve is in sight today, with forecasters expecting the wild weather to ease as the storm moves north.
The winds showed little sign of letting up into the night, with police urging extreme caution from debris flung on to roads.
Fires were reported in scrub, sheds and homes throughout Canterbury all afternoon, many caused by downed power lines.
Fire fighters are tonight battling several major fires which were threatening homes on Sandy Knolls Rd, West Melton.
Fire Service spokeswoman Karlum Lattimore said all volunteer staff and all off-duty staff were called in to help .
''There are so many [call-outs] that we are having to prioritise ones which are threatening people's property.''
Nine appliances attended the Sandy Knolls Rd fire, thought to have started from a hedge about 8pm, which was still blazing at 10pm.
About the same time, Lincoln fire fighters were at a Leeston hay barn, where silage pits were on fire. The Leeston brigade was fighting a separate blaze at the showgrounds. In Southbridge, six appliances were sent to a late-night fire at a cow shed.
In Ashburton, police were evacuating homes on Jacksons Rd as eight appliances battled a nearby blaze which ignited at about 7pm. In nearby Barrhill, more appliances had rushed a wood merchant's home, whose firewood had gone up in flames.
There was also many reports of roofs being torn of houses and trees falling on the road across Canterbury and South Canterbury, Lattimore said.
Problems had already peaked around 8pm, when a house fire was reported in Oxford, a shed caught fire in Kaiapoi, a blaze ignited in the Selwyn River bed and a tree fell on a fire truck near Dunsandel.
Fire fighters struggled to keep up as the winds re-ignited fires they had already put out.
"They're everywhere - Cave, Ashburton, Timaru, Rakaia, Mayfield, Sheffield . . . this is a severe event," a Fire Service spokesman said of the blazes.
The fires were accompanied by ''major dust storms'' in southern parts of Canterbury.
Trains were stopped on the Midland Line at Sheffield due to a fire on the railway tracks and poor visibility.
Roads and highways were blocked at various times of the day due to felled trees and power lines.
Dunsandel brigade chief Ian Chatterton said things were ''absolutely frantic'' owing to the "extreme weather conditions".
"There's all sorts of problems with re-ignition due to the high winds."
A scrub fire near the Ashburton River, reported to be ''going fairly strong'' about 5pm, took several hours for fire fighters to get under control.
Meanwhile on the West Coast, which was being pelted by heavy rain and thunderstorms for much of the day, fire crews were called to a Fox Glacier property set alight by a lightning strike.
Luckily it was a ''small fire'' and had been extinguished when they arrived, a Fire Service spokesman said.
At 8.30pm, 11,582 customers around Canterbury were without power, Orion spokesman Stuart Kilduff said.
Line faults had mostly been centred in rural Canterbury, where trees had brought down power lines and power poles had snapped. Crews would be unable to fix the problems until at least today, he said.
Metservice meterologist Ian Gall said most of the worst had passed for South and Mid Canterbury, but Christchurch was likely to see an increase in wind speed overnight.
The record-breaking wind gust of 251.9 kilometres per hour recorded on the summit of Mt Hutt at 4.23pm yesterday broke their previous record of 238kph logged in January.
On the mainland, Fairlie had recorded 119 kph, Timaru and Ashburton had reached 110 kph and Lyttelton about 75 kph.
Christchurch lagged behind at about 65 kph, but it was expected to reach about 90 kph last night.
''We're expecting it to ease away through South Canterbury overnight and dying Wednesday morning in North Canterbury,'' Gall said.
A band of lightning activity had moved from Southland across Otago, but Canterbury was expected to be mostly protected by the Southern Alps.
Traffic was snarled on Dunedin's Northern Motorway after a "fairly large" truck rolled over a little before 1pm, and similar incidents occurred near Oamaru.
Severe winds caused damage to a building at Otago University.
Waimate resident Brenda Webb said the panels of her greenhouse had been ripped apart, and ended up in her neighbour's yard after the winds hit about 2.30pm.
''By crikey was it windy. I thought the roof was coming off.''
Webb said she had not seen anything like it in almost 40 years.
Coopers Creek resident Tony Benny said at least a dozen 100-year-old pine, gum and eucalyptus trees had been brought down on his property.
''It's reasonably spectacular - the whole house is shaking,'' he said.
''The kids have just come home and they've seen power lines down, lamp posts down and trees down.''
The Lake House owner Mike Kelly said the strong winds had caused quite a bit of damage to the outside of his Lake Hood restaurant.
"It's the biggest winds we've ever seen here."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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