Chaos as storm-hit trees fall in region

Last updated 12:00 19/04/2014

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Among the many people caught out when a powerful storm ripped through the Nelson region on Thursday was a group of arthritic elderly people trapped at the Ngawhatu Pool by a fallen gum tree.

Arthritis New Zealand runs seven water-based classes at Ngawhatu Pool per week.

Stoke woman Jane Filmer said one class was about to leave the pool complex and another had just arrived when a blue gum measuring about 25 metres fell across the driveway, blocking their exit.

Filmer said there were about a dozen people and they were not well-prepared for spending hours at the pool. The tree fell down shortly after 11am.

"Everybody's all right but they'll be getting a bit faint with hunger soon," she said in the early afternoon.

"One woman didn't even have any clothes. She was dropped off in her dressing gown."

Regional co-ordinator Rae Svarnas said the volunteer in charge kept the situation under control, and had shared out jellybeans.

Council contractors from Downer were called in to remove the tree.

In Collingwood St, a "beautiful" old heritage tree caused extensive damage to houses when it came down.

Resident Jules Hobbs said the back of his house was "demolished" when the large tree fell down.

Hobbs and his family had been living at the Collingwood St home for eight years.

He said no-one was hurt when the tree came down but his family were unable to enter their home.

He said the "beautiful old tree" would sway in high winds but he had never been concerned about it coming down before.

Neighbour Graham Heath was home when the tree crashed into the back of his home.

"We were lucky we got the tail end of it," he said.

He and his wife heard a loud "boom" about 1.30pm when the top of the tree hit his garage and garden shed.

In Kawai St, six heritage oak trees have stood on Peter Lawless' property for 135 years, but two were among four trees that came down on Thursday, two of them ending up across his garage.

Lawless said he had taken his car into town for 10 minutes before returning to find four trees in his garden had fallen down shortly before 2pm.

He said they could easily have fallen on him while he was in the car.

As well as the two toppled oak trees, a large totara tree and a liquidambar had succumbed to the wind. The totara broke a window in his house.

"It was quite dramatic . . . I got here and the shed had disappeared."

Lawless' house is named "Seven Oaks" for seven oak trees which were planted from acorns brought to New Zealand from England.

One had come down before the storm and now only four remain standing.

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The fall cut Lawless' phone connection and his neighbours' power.

"It's pretty amazing because that tree has withstood everything until now."

Lawless said he had been in Cairns last week when the same cyclone hit that area.

Neighbour Sean Taylor lost the corrugated-iron roof of his garden shed.

A tree had also come down at Nelson College onto Waimea Rd.

Traffic was blocked while Nelmac cleared the road.

Richmond's Salisbury Rd was closed and most of Waimea College's students had to leave across the school's back fields after a large branch from a historic poplar tree fell on the road during strong wind gusts.

The large branch fell mid-afternoon, raising fears for the safety of the college's students, staff and parents if more branches fell.

Police closed the road and diverted traffic while working out how to get the students out of the college and away from the tree, which stands near the school's bus bay.

Bus students gathered in the college's hall and were shepherded to their buses, which were moved to the far side of Salisbury Rd and away from the damaged tree.

Parents picking up their children were allowed part way up the road to a common collection point.

Neighbouring Waimea Intermediate was also affected with students being safely guided out of the side of the school away from the wind-damaged tree.

Trees also came down in the Brook Valley, Washington Valley and Victory area.

MORE PHOTOS, p4

- The Nelson Mail

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