LATEST: Wild weather pounding the country is causing widespread damage and destruction, cutting off townships, toppling trees, ripping off roofs, flooding roads, damaging properties, and cutting power.
Most of the country has been hit, with the Easter holiday season getting off to a treacherous start.
The Fire Service had received more than 1000 emergency calls by 4pm as rain and gale-force winds hammered much of the country.
Auckland and West Coast took the brunt, with 291 calls in the northern region and 227 on the West Coast - a region that usually gets 2 or 3 a day.
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This evening gale-force winds were continuing to hit the West Coast hard.
The Metservice said Westport was battered with the country's strongest winds today with 130kmh winds recorded at 3pm.
It was still blowing at 115kmh in Westport at 6.30pm today but was expected to ease overnight.
Westport and Cobden, near Greymouth, are the worst hit but many roads and highways remain closed in the region because of downed trees and power lines.
Numerous vehicles rolled in the wind, including a car propelled off Haast River Bridge, a campervan off a bridge near Hari Hari and an icecream truck between Greymouth and Punakaiki, although no serious injuries were reported.
Regional fire commander Brendan Nelly said several buses were blown over as they attempted to transport workers home from Stockton Mine, north of Westport.
Westport had no power and was isolated as roads were blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines. Many roofs were lifted in the township and surrounds, he said.
"I think there were up to 9 pylons downed."
He said: "I’ve got about 200 volunteers, or closer to 250, on the West Coast and I’d say the majority were called out today. It’s been all hands to the pump.’’
Westport New World had a plate glass window blown in but no one was injured.
Emergency services were struggling to reach a car with an occupant trapped inside at Karamea bluffs because fallen trees blocked their road access, Nelly said.
Police closed the road into Cobden today because of significant danger from flying roofing iron. Cobden Bridge was also closed because the high winds made it too dangerous.
Greymouth central business district was closed this afternoon because of danger from flying debris after a roof lifted off an industrial building.
A Civil Defence emergency had not been declared but Grey District Civil Defence headquarters set up two welfare centres in Greymouth for those people unable to return home or needing shelter and food.
They were at the Baptist Church on High Street and Cobden School Hall on Fox Street for Cobden residents unable to remain in damaged homes.
Nelly said the fire service had decided this evening against earlier plans to send a USAR (urban search and rescue) team and a taskforce team to assist West Coast’s volunteers.
Westport fire chief Pat O'Dea said at least three properties had lost their roofs this morning in the district.
At the worst-hit property on Wilsons Lead Rd at Cape Foulwind, the farmhouse's roof had blown off into a nearby paddock.
He said high wind made conditions too dangerous for fire officers to fix tarpaulins over the roof.
Instead, they were placing tarps over some of their belongings for temporary protection.
''And the wind is getting stronger if anything,'' O'Dea said.
In Nelson a shed roof smashed into a fence metres from a bystander in the town’s Victory Square at the height of today's storm.
"The top of a shed came flying into my house and broke the fence," resident Ally Ross said.
Tree branches bigger than 4WD trucks were strewn across nearby Saint Vincent St and two 135-year-old oak trees came crashing down across a garage.
Peter Lawless found the trees after returning to his house from a quick trip to town. The trees could easily have fallen on him while he was in the car, he said.
"It was quite dramatic ... I got here and the shed had disappeared."
Gusts also brought down a large totara tree, breaking a window in the house, and a liquid amber. Four old oak trees remain standing.
Footage posted on You Tube shows a large tree being blown down in Collingwood St, Nelson.
Three houses were in the path of the tree, with one of them being split in half, 3 News reported.
About a dozen arthritic elderly people were trapped at the Ngawhatu Pool in Stoke when a 25-metre gum tree fell across the driveway.
They had to wait to be freed by council contractors who arrived with chainsaws to remove the tree.
Also at Stoke, Nick Ward was driving along Main Rd when a big tree crashed down in strong winds taking out a power line.
"I heard a loud crack, there was a flash and a bang and it came down partly blocking the road," Ward said.
Earlier in the day, in the Bay of Plenty car left the road and went down a bank on Toatoa Road near Opotiki, the Whakatane Beacon reported.
The road is closed.
Police earlier had fears a bridge near Katikati could break with rivers in the Bay of Plenty starting to swell, as a storm system bringing gales and rain is hammering much of the country.
The bridge is on Wharawhara Rd, which joins State Highway 2 south of Katikati and is now closed, Sunlive reported.
"We are concerned the bridge may break," Western BOP road police acting manager Sergeant Nigel Ramsden said.
"We are also very concerned about the second high tide at 9pm tonight, and there may be further road closures."
Waikato police were also advising against all but essential travel to or around the Coromandel, following the first heavy rains in several months.
By 5pm roads were still closed due to a number of slips, fallen trees and flooding, with police urging people to postpone travel to tomorrow - and even then, check weather and road closures.
The Whitianga-Tairua road has reopened, but Tairua is cut off to the south, and expected to stay that way throughout the night.
Pauanui access road is closed, and with the tide rising it could stay shut all night. Kopu Hikaui Road is also shut.
SH25 between Waihi and Whangamata was still open, but extreme caution was advised.
This evening there were very significant traffic jams around SH2/SH25 and around Kopu. Police urged patience as the backlog will take a long time to clear.
In Manawatu, emergency services are bracing themselves for what could be an afternoon of weather-related damage in the region.
Gusts of up to 140kmh and heavy rain are forecast throughout the day and rivers around the region were beginning to rise.
Power is out in parts of Apiti, Pohangina, Ashhurst and Aokautere due to faults.
The worst of the wind in the region is in Horowhenua where firefighters had to re-secure an air-conditioning unit to a building on Oxford St at 11.40pm, a fire communications spokesman said.
There were also reports of a trampoline blown onto the Main Trunk Line from Plimmer Tce in Shannon.
Firefighters were preparing for more callouts as the worst of the weather moved south, he said.
In Taranaki, flights have been cancelled and reports of damage were coming in as strong winds and rain took hold.
Cars on north Auckland's Whangaparaoa Rd had a close call when the roof landed on the busy four-lane arterial route at about 9.30am.
No-one on the road was injured and no vehicles were hit to the surprise of motorists and emergency services.
However, two elderly people in the home where the roof blew off suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital.
To the north of the city, gales have been causing havoc across Rodney and the Hibiscus Coast.
Some residents say it was far worse than Cyclone Lusi on March 15.
Power cuts had affected thousands of homes across the district, including Orewa, Silverdale, Stanmore Bay, Snells Beach, Hatfields Beach, Helensville, Coatesville, Kumeu, Kaipara Flats and Tapora, Lines company Vector said.
Power was also out in Henderson, Massey, Howick, Remuera, Piha, and Whangaparaoa.
There was a close escape for police officers, who were clearing a road near Taumarunui, King Country. As they were removing a tree from one side of the road, another tree fell on the other side, crunching the front of their police car.
TAMAKI DRIVE UNDER WATER
Severe flooding on Auckland's waterfront, described as the worst ever seen, trapped residents this morning.
Waves crashed over the sea wall on Tamaki Dr as the high tide arrived at 8.42am.
"The waves are coming over the wall pretty heavily. We can't leave the house, so we are going to try and work from but the power keeps cutting out," said Jessica Desmond, who lives on the third floor of an apartment on the waterfront road.
"Tamaki Dr is a disaster," Kohimarama resident Zoe Gibbs, 83, who lives one house back from the waterfront, said.
"People who have lived here a long time called me and said they've never seen it so bad".
"It's all around my letterbox, across my lawn and halfway up my drive," she said.
There were delays at Auckland Airport as the storm disrupted flights.
Seven hundred and twenty homes are without power tonight as Wellington Electricity deals with widespread storm damage.
The power cuts are spread across the capital as the lines company copes with several different incidents.
High winds and rising seas were causing delays and cancellations for Interislander ferry trips across the Cook Strait.
There would be significant delays and slow crossings throughout the day on all ferries, KiwiRail spokeswoman Helen Corrigan said.
Sailings would likely be cancelled and customers should monitor the Interislander timetable, she said.
Bluebridge communications manager Wendy Pannett said the Straitsman earlier had difficulty berthing because of high winds.
The Santa Regina was also running a couple of hours late. Bluebridge was not anticipating any cancellations.
Alex Chong of Porirua was on the Straitsman's 3.30am sailing from Wellington to Picton.
He said when the ferry reached Picton, it was unable to berth.
"All the boat did was go round and rounds the islands from 6.30am until 12 o'clock," he said.
"Three truckies on board said it was the worst sailing they've ever been on, and truckies are on it almost every day."
Bluebridge staff checked on passengers and handed out cups of ice for passengers to put under their tongues to help with seasickness, he said.
A train travelling from Picton to Christchurch was blocked by landslips at flooding further up the line at Kaikoura station. Passengers were give accommodation there for the night.
The Christchurch City Council is preparing ahead of heavy rainfall forecast to hit the city from this afternoon.
High tide will be about 7pm tonight, but the CCC does not expect flooding issues in coastal areas.
People in low-lying areas are advised to take steps to protect their property and valuables.
Contractors have been clearing grates this morning and will be on call to clear channels if required.
If roads do flood, the council advises that people avoid contact with flood waters.
Banks Peninsula residents should conserve water this weekend.
Otago is bracing itself for the tail-end of Cyclone Ita's fury with severe rain and wind warnings in place.
Otago Regional Council and Civil Defence have advised people to be vigilant in the wake of a Met Service severe weather warning for North Otago and Dunedin, part of a wild weather system, headed down the country.
Rain has started falling and is expected to become heavy by tomorrow morning.
"About 120mm to 180mm is expected about higher parts of North Otago from midnight tonight to midnight tomorrow, and 50mm to 90mm elsewhere, including Dunedin," an advisory from Otago Regional Council and Civil Defence said.
The Met Service is predicting north-easterly winds for the province, gale-force up to 65km in coastal parts.
Meteorologist Melissa Roux said the bad weather, which included the tail-end of Cyclone Ita was part of a larger complex weather system that contained numerous troughs and fronts sitting to the west of the country.
Otago Regional Council was advising people to watch out for rapidly rising streams and rivers, surface flooding, slips, and hazardous driving conditions.
Fire Service callouts (midnight to 4pm)
Bay of Plenty: 76
Eastern (North Island): 0
Western (North Island): 91
West Coast (South Island): 227
- Fairfax Media