Storms lash north after leaving trail of destruction

Last updated 14:35 11/09/2013

Planes have been diverted away from Wellington, trees are down, and power is out in parts of the capital this morning after winds near 150kmh tore through town.

Fernside School
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ Zoom
POWER CUT: A linesman attempts to get Fernside School, in North Canterbury, back on the grid.

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What you need to know: Wednesday 11 September

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Thunder and rain are on their way to join the powerful winds that have downed powerlines, diverted some flights, and plucked a truck and trailer from the road today.

Destructive weather that wreaked havoc on the South Island yesterday has moved north, losing some of its sting but still causing havoc.

Storm-force northwest winds - a record 251.9 kilometres per hour was recorded on the Mt Hutt summit - sparked countless scrub fires, uprooted trees, snapped power poles, tore roofs off buildings and overturned a truck, while a lightning strike set a West Coast house ablaze.

Power is still out to about 17,000 homes in Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri, with some set to be without electricity for up to five days.

In the North Island, northwesterly winds were still gusting at 80kmh at Wellington Airport at 1pm today - a slight drop from overnight but not cause to believe the wind was abating, MetService forecaster John Law said.

The wind would continue through till early tomorrow with heavy rain and possibly some thunder coming later today.

The heaviest rain was forecast for between 7pm and 8pm in Wellington today but ''we are still going to find it's wet for the ride home''.

Earlier today strong winds plucked a truck and trailer off State Highway 2 north of Masterton and deposited it into a pine plantation, destroying 100m of fence and scattering freight amongst the trees.

''The wind has picked him up and taken him,'' Masterton traffic sergeant Chris Megaw said.

''He came round the corner and felt the steering go... the front of the truck just got lifted up with the wind. That was it - he was at the mercy of the elements.''

Nobody was injured.

An Air New Zealand spokesman said gusty crosswinds had affected flights in and out of Wellington this morning, disrupting about 800 passengers. Three jets were diverted to Palmerston North or Christchurch meaning some return services had been cancelled.

Jetstar had to send a plane back to Auckland this morning after it was unable to land in Wellington.

Air services had resumed but some passengers faced nearly 24 hours of delays at Wellington Airport as a result of airline delays.

Spanish-Swedish honeymooning couple Celia and Joakim Kampe arrived at the airport last night to catch a 7.30pm Jetstar flight, which was cancelled.

"It was cancelled because of the wind and another flight at 7.30 this morning was cancelled as well ... We have a flight at 3pm depending on the weather," Mr Kampe said.

They stayed overnight at an airport hotel.

"It was blowing so much there was a lamp on the balcony outside [their room] which exploded," he said.

Helen Dowman was supposed to fly back to Auckland last night. Then a flight at 7.30am today was cancelled and she missed a 9.30am flight by two seats.

''It's pretty terrible,'' she said.

MetService meteorologist Richard Finnie said gusts reached 146kmh on the Rimutaka Hill Rd last night. At 6am it was gusting at 130kmh on the hill between Upper Hutt and Wairarapa.

Wellington Electricity spokesman Drew Douglas said 72 homes were without power from about 7am today at Horokiwi - a small community inland from the Petone to Ngauranga stretch of State Highway 2. Power was restored by late morning.

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The Fire Service was called to about 25 weather related call-outs since last night in the Wellington region including trampolines blown away, powerlines arcing, and roofs lifting off.

Rongotai College in Wellington's eastern suburbs had two roofs blown off this morning but - as both were headed for the scrap heap anyway - principal Kevin Carter was not concerned.

The school's main block had roofing material coming off in the wind but the roof was scheduled for replacement over Christmas.

A pre-fabricated classroom which was scheduled for demolition also had roofing worked loose this morning, he said.

CANTERBURY HIT HARD

Residents woke today to find trees blown over, debris scattered, and roads and schools closed.

Kylie McFaul slept in the lounge of her Christchurch house overnight after a tree fell on the roof above her bedroom.

McFaul was watching television in the living room with her two flatmates when the tree fell on the Dudley St house about 10.30pm yesterday, damaging gutters and roof tiles.

Parts of the damaged tree were blocking their driveway and the "whole street" in front of the house, she said.

Lines were also knocked down by the fallen tree, cutting power to one neighbour and telephone services to another.

The flatmates slept in the lounge of their Richmond rental overnight in case the tree broke through the roof.

"We had a slumber party," McFaul said.

"We were kind of frightened. The wind was just howling, it was thundering the house and the winds were just rattling. After [the tree] fell, we were in shock."

The flatmates and their neighbours were stuck on Dudley St this morning, with another fallen tree blocking one end and road works blocking the other.

"Basically we were trapped. Everyone's doing all right here though."

They were waiting for the tree to be removed, but someone had come while they were asleep to put "danger tape" around their home.

A few suburbs over, Judy Cassells' Merivale house fell victim to a falling tree.

"It was a huge, huge tree. It's a beautiful old elm."

The tree fell onto the corner of the Naseby St house, above the living room, about 10.15pm yesterday.

"I heard an almighty bang, but I never thought it was the big tree until I peered out the window."

The driveway, which Cassells shared with two other properties, had been blocked, and "great big holes" had been formed in her roof.

"It has broken the fence and the gate and broken the corner of the house where it fell."

The tree would be removed by aborists this afternoon.

'WE'VE LOST EVERYTHING IN THE STORM'

Cheryl Allsopp said she was "devastated" that the storm had flipped over her caravan in Leeston.

"This has been our home while we are building. We have lost everything in this storm."

Their new home would not be ready until December, so they hoped their insurance company would be able to help in the meantime.

In Christchurch, the wild winds lifted the roof of a wing at Southern Cross Hospital last night.

A hospital spokeswoman said the damaged area of the Bealey Ave facility contained nine beds, but no staff or patients were injured.

The affected area represented about 10 per cent of the hospital's total bed numbers, she said.

About 30 Fletcher Construction workers were on site this morning to repair the damage as soon as possible.

She hoped a temporary roof would be in place by tomorrow.

The rest of the hospital was not affected and surgery would continue as scheduled today, the spokeswoman said.

Police warned motorists to expect delays in many parts of Canterbury today.

The roundabout at Sawyers Arms Rd and Johns Rd, near Christchurch Airport, is closed this morning because of fallen debris.

Power outages and fallen trees have also closed several Canterbury schools.

A power cut also hit The Press overnight, interrupting deliveries of the paper this morning.

- Fairfax Media

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