Damaging storm batters NZ
NICOLE PRYOR, ASHLEIGH STEWART AND MICHAEL DALY
Powerful winds have toppled three floors of scaffolding in central Wellington, blown windows out, knocked over trees, cut power and disrupted travel in central New Zealand.
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The gusts have been battering Wellington and the South Island all day.
The Metservice’s maximum gusts recorded in the Wellington region up to 6pm were 169kmh at Rimutaka Summit, 167kmh at Kaukau, 135kmh in Kelburn, and 126kmh at both the airport and Mana Island.
MetService was still recording gusts of 113kmh in Wellington just after 8pm.
The scaffolding collapse happened about three hours earlier. As the MetService recorded a 124kmh wind gust in Wellington, the scaffolding came smashing down on Willis St, in the central business district.
The street has been closed since then. A Fire Service spokesman said there were fears that the scaffolding could be "live" as a result of contact with trolley bus lines. Pedestrians were being kept well clear.
"It's very unstable, and could still present a risk to people," he said.
No-one appears to have been hurt, but people have been asked to stay away from the area because debris is being blown about.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt was working in a building opposite.
"I heard what just sounded almost like an earthquake. There was a big noise and the building vibrated a little... there was this whoosh sound that was obviously the wind then the scaffolding coming down," he said.
"It's just indicative of how powerful these winds are."
Wayne Kennedy, who works in the top floor of State Insurance building opposite, heard the scaffolding fall and saw it from the window of his office. He said people could have been killed. Another witness said the scaffolding also took a temporary wall at the front of the site down with it.
GLASS HITS MAN
Emergency service personnel were still on Willis Street when the continuing strong winds blew out a glass shopfront into the path of an unsuspecting pedestrian.
Wellingtonian Duncan MacLeod was hit by glass as he fought the wind just after 7.30pm.
"I was just walking down the street the wind was pushing me behind, not too hard, and then all of a sudden there was a huge gust from the front and the wind pushed me back and the window burst out - just the bottom first, and then the top crashed down. I got a little bit of the side dropped on my arm...then there was another gust and that dropped out too."
MacLeod ecaped with minor scratches on one arm, while the nearby fire service staff came to help with the shopfront.
Is a separate incident, shipping containers have apparently fallen into the sea.
Chef Martin Bosley, who has a restaurant at Oriental Bay, tweeted: "Loud crashing noise heard in the restaurant. Looked across the Harbour to see shipping containers being blown into water @ centreport."
COMMUTERS URGED TO TAKE CARE
People have been urged to avoid unnecessary travel this evening.
"Obviously people need to get home, of course, but the advice is for people to stay home tonight," Knackstedt said.
The warning came after a van was blown over on the southbound lane of State Highway 1 near Churton Park about 1pm, the police, NZTA and Wellington City Council said.
"Cyclists, motorbikes and high-sided vehicles are at most risk. However, all drivers in any vehicle should be driving with extreme care or cancelling unnecessary travel where possible.
"Drivers should be wary of the possibility of fallen trees or branches and the possibility of downed overhead power lines. If they come across downed lines, they should stay clear and call 111," the statement said.
"Those on foot should also take care in high-wind areas of the city."
Travellers on coastal roads needed to be wary of sea spray and debris.
Flight cancellations caused widespread disruption, with thousands of air travellers affected as flights in and out of Wellington were cancelled during the day.
Just before 5pm Wellington Airport said severe weather meant most flights had been cancelled until further notice. Air New Zealand suspended domestic flight operations in and out of Wellington for the rest of Monday.
The severe gales in Wellington, Wairarapa, Kapiti and the Marlborough Sounds are expected to last until midnight tonight.
Masterton Police asked people to delay their travel in the South Wairarapa until the extreme weather passes.
"Those who elect to drive need to take extreme caution due to the high winds and debris on the road. Several trees have been blown down and are creating a number of significant driving hazards around the district," police said.
The winds in Otago and Canterbury had eased and weather warnings had been lifted, the MetService said.
Heavy rain is expected about Mt Taranaki and the Tararua Range until early Tuesday morning, and about Tongariro National Park until Tuesday afternoon, where 100mm could accumulate.
Throughout the lower North Island and upper South Island thousands of households lost power throughout the day, and vehicles and trees were blown over.
In Stokes Valley, mother Mel Thomson packed her three children - Caleb, 9, Maddison, 6, and Mackennzie, 4 - in the car and left for school and work.
Four minutes after they left the roof of the carport lifted off and slammed on to the exact spot the car had just been, husband and father Kent Thomson said. In a twist of irony, insurance assessors were at the house at the time looking at damage from a previous storm.
MetService meteorologist John Law said Wellington would continue to be battered by severe gale force winds through into tonight.
The winds were ahead of a front which was moving north.
"The wind is very gusty," Law said.
The high winds delayed cruise ship The Sea Princess coming to Wellington this morning. It is now due to arrive tomorrow.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said various wind-related calls had been received throughout the day, including a crane ''swinging in the wind'' in central Wellington.
There was also an uprooted tree across a car in Ngaio; Wellington Hospital's main entrance sign was unstable; and other road signs had been blown around.
Elsewhere, firefighters were flat-tack securing roofs and dealing with downed powerlines.
In Canterbury, about 1900 homes could be without electricity overnight as lightning hampered repair efforts.
Orion spokesman Stu Kilduff said the damage had been caused by trees falling on powerlines.
Efforts by crews working to fix the faults were being hampered by "patches of lightning that had come through", he said.
"There are patches of sizeable damage."
Powerlines were brought down across Wairarapa and central Wellington, including outside the gates of Johnsonville School.
Power was cut to about 3000 properties in Wairarapa, Rangitikei and Manawatu.
Police in Wairarapa were also warning motorists north of Masterton in the Mt Bruce area to wary of ''extreme'' wind gusts.
A tree fell on SH 2 near Tauherenikau and a truck was blown over on SH 2 near the Mt Bruce Bird Sanctuary.
The Rimutaka Hill Rd reopened after being closed for part of the day with gusts of up to 140kmh having been reported. NZTA warned extra care was needed because of strong winds on the route. Earlier a motorist crossing the hill reported being blown completely around by a gust, police said.
In Canterbury a caravan toppled in high winds on Summit Rd, Little Akaloa.
Parts of the country were also "lit up like a Christmas tree" by lightning strikes, MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said.
Between 10am and noon almost 5000 strikes were recorded.
Most of those were west of the South Island's main divide, although some were spilling over to the east.
The greatest concentration had been in Westland, Corbett said.
MainPower engineering manager Peter Hurford said about 1000 of the company's customers lost power, mainly in the Oxford area.
A Fire Service spokesman said crews dealt with several fires across the Canterbury region due to the wind.
In Geraldine, firefighters battled a blaze at a pine plantation for almost two hours.
Trees on power lines sparked a fire in Oxford, grass fires started in Hampden, and a hedge near Methven caught fire.
Firefighters were also called to reports of roofs lifting, and collapsing, in Geraldine, and roofs lifting in Glentunnel.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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