Storms wreak havoc in Canterbury
A Leeston family who were living in a caravan while their new home was built have found themselves homeless after last night's storm.
Cheryl Allsopp had just finished cooking dinner about 7pm when the winds got too intense.
"I just said 'I'm getting out'," she said.
She, her husband and children grabbed the food in the pans and drove to her mother-in-law's home nearby.
When they returned later that night, the caravan was upside down, the dog kennels crushed through the roof and many of their belongings destroyed.
"I just cried," she said.
"It's like a tornado has ripped through. It's just an absolute mess.
"This has been our home while we are building. We have lost everything in this storm."
The family, from Manchester, England, had been living in the caravan parked on a friend's property since Easter while their home was built around the corner.
The home will not be completed until December, so the couple hoped their insurance company would be able to help in the meantime.
"We've had a rough winter. We had all the floods. We thought we were getting into the nice weather then this happens."
Now, they have no idea where they and their two dogs will stay.
"It's pretty tough. It's only in the morning you can see the extent of what's happened."
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Power is still out to about tens of thousands of homes in Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri, with some set to be without electricity for up to five days.
Power was cut to some homes in the region last night after strong winds and thunderstorms tore across the South Island, leaving a potentially multimillion-dollar trail of destruction.
The wild weather brought down trees in the city and surrounding districts, and closed roads and schools.
Papanui resident Nick Hubbard said the top of his big willow tree blew into his Grants Rd house last night, smashing through the roof and into their spare bedroom.
It was "very scary stuff", he said.
Kylie McFaul had to sleep in her lounge after a tree fell on the roof above her bedroom.
She was watching television in the living room with her two flatmates when the tree fell on the Dudley St, Richmond, 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 knocked down by the fallen tree, cutting power to one neighbour and telephone services to another.
The flatmates slept in the lounge of their 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 in Dudley St this morning, with another fallen tree blocking one end and roadworks blocking the other.
"Basically we were trapped. Everyone's doing all right here though," McFaul said.
They were waiting for the tree to be removed, but someone had arrived 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 on to 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," she said.
The driveway, 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, she said.
Southern Cross Hospital was also damaged by the wild winds last night with the roof of a wing being lifted.
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 bed numbers, she said.
About 30 Fletcher Construction workers were on site this morning to repair the damage.
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.
Fire truck damaged
Dunsandel volunteer firefighters are today without their new fire truck after a tree fell directly into their path as they were heading to a fire last night.
Brigade chief Ian Chatterton said they were driving about 30 metres behind a car in Telegraph Rd, from Springfield to a town south of the Rakaia River, when a large pine tree fell - directly between the two vehicles.
"It was dark. All of a sudden there was this tree in front of us," he said.
"There was no time to stop. The impact blew windscreen glass into the truck cab.
"I was on the cellphone talking to someone and heard screams.
"We were really lucky."
A back-up truck had to be called in.
Chatterton thought it was about 7pm when it happened, but could not be sure as the night was "just constant".
"Everyone going to a call came across something else," he said.
"I must admit ... it's not often you're scared out there. It was quite extreme."
Power still out, warning for motorists
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.
Orion chief executive Rob Jamieson said 11,000 customers had had power restored after last night's storm, down from a peak of 28,000 overnight.
Most crews had been unable to start work until this morning because ongoing gusts made conditions dangerous last night.
A few "patches" of homes were still without power in Christchurch today, but most of the damage to power lines and substations had happened in Selwyn.
"The estimate is that it could take up to five days in the rural areas to get everyone back on," he said.
About half of Orion's substations were down and there had been "lots of damage" to power lines, mostly caused by fallen trees.
"The key thing for us is we go out and get all the crews first to identify all the lines that are down and making it safe, then get the bigger crews ... in to do all the repairs. One step at a time."
Jamieson warned people to treat all fallen lines as live.
About 12,000 homes in North Canterbury are still without power this afternoon.
Mainpower engineering manager Pete Hurford said a few in the "rural back-blocks" could possibly be without power for more than a week, but the lines company hoped to have it back on for most by tomorrow night.
Electricity was restored to Amberley Beach just before noon today and parts of Amberley had power back by 2pm and the rest of the town would hopefully be restored by tonight.
"We are making some good steady progress. It's widespread damage and a lot of it ... 90 per cent [is caused by] trees."
Hurford said some customers had declined to have trees removed or trimmed in the past, which contributed to the extent of today's damage.
"We get a storm like this and they come down. There's a lesson to be learnt there somewhere."
He warned people to avoid any fallen power lines and refrain from cutting fallen trees if lines were nearby until Mainpower had been able to isolate them.
Police warned motorists to expect delays in many parts of Canterbury today.
The roundabout at Sawyers Arms Rd and Johns Rd, near Christchurch Airport, was closed this morning because of fallen debris.
Power outages and fallen trees have also closed several Canterbury schools.
A spokesman said police were reasonably quiet as the weather calmed down.
He urged motorists to drive to the conditions and take particular care where there was water or debris on the road.
A driver crashed into a fallen tree near Leeston this morning.
The crash happened near the intersection of Leeston and Bethels roads about 6.10am.
A St John spokesman said the driver was not injured.
No weather-related injuries had been reported to St John in Canterbury overnight, he said.
The NZ Transport Agency said several stretches of highway in the South Island were closed because of winds, fallen trees and power lines, flooding or snow.
Caution was needed on many other stretches of highway as a result of high winds or flooding.
Storm hits Selwyn, Waimakariri, Hurunui
Power is down, roads are closed and water and sewerage systems have been affected by last night's storm in parts of Selwyn and Waimakariri.
Motorists have been urged to drive with care in both areas, with trees and power lines down on several roads.
The Selwyn District Council said fires burnt vegetation and farm buildings overnight, some threatening homes in West Melton, Leeston and Southbridge.
The fires have been contained but are being monitored and dampened down by firefighters.
Sewerage and water services are working in Selwyn, but council staff are checking the networks.
The Sewlyn Aquatic Centre is closed today, along with the Darfield and Leeston libraries.
The Waimakariri District Council has closed the Oxford service centre today because of power failure, but the Rangiora and Kaiapoi centres are open.
The old Waimakariri bridge remains open today, but many smaller roads have been closed.
The Ashley Bridge at Cones Rd in Rangiora will close at 4.30pm due to rising river levels.
Water supplies are down because of power cuts at Cust, Garrymere, West Eyreton and Summerhill and the Oxford Rural No 1 pump station.
The council said it was organising generators for the affected areas, but asked residents to conserve water.
Sewer pump stations are also down in parts of Kaiapoi, Woodend, Oxford, Waikuku Beach, Pines Beach, Kairaki Beach and Woodend Beach.
"We are managing these schemes with generators and sucker trucks, but request that people limit the amount of water they use to reduce flows into the sewer," the council said.
Amberley was without water after a water main burst this morning, draining the town's reservoir, but it has since been restored.
The Hurunui District has been hammered by overnight gales, while lightning strikes caused several fires.
The largest fire was in the Ashley Forest area, with four helicopters dispatched at 7am to fight the blaze once the winds calmed down enough to ensure safe flying.
Firefighters from Amberley were also battling the fire.
Fires in Balmoral and the Blythe Valley have been put out.
Power cuts have affected water pump stations in Waipara, Hawarden, Waiau and Culverden.
Water supplies in rural Ashley, Amuri Plains, Waiau and Cheviot have also been affected.
"As the sun arose this morning, the sheer devastation wrought by overnight gale-force northwest winds and lightning strikes has become apparent," a statement on the council's website said.
Many large trees were uprooted and some had fallen on roads and buildings, while others had taken out fences, allowing stock to escape.
Several roads remained closed today, as have several schools.
West Coast battered by heavy rain
Reefton police evacuated a home on Boatmans Road, north of the small West Coast township, this morning and put others on alert after floodwaters threatened a number of homes.
Residents Rick and Carey Harvey woke up to find their home surrounded by water after a dramatic night of torrential rain and thunderstorms.
''The lightning was amazing, every minute or two there was more and more. It was just ongoing all night. I've never been in a thunderstorm like it before,'' Carey Harvey said.
Police came to their door around 9am today, checking on all residents on the rural road in Cronadun, north of Reefton.
By then, water was flowing under their home, the worst flooding they had seen since living there for 4.5 years.
But just before they were loaded into the police ute with their one-year-old son, the water started to subside so they decided to wait it out.
''They told us to keep everything packed so we were on alert for evacuation if it rises again,'' she said.
Heavy rain was predicted for this afternoon and evening.
She said floodwaters at the road's corner to State Highway 6 reached half way up the police ute's doors this morning.
Their phone was out of action but power had been restored.
At least one resident was evacuated at the road's corner, the Harveys said.
Another resident on the road, who declined to be named, said she was surprised when police knocked at her door this morning to check on her and ask whether she wanted to be evacuated.
She declined but was keeping a close eye on floodwaters, which quickly subsided this morning, because of a pending downpour this afternoon.
''I cleared 170mm of rain from my gauge this morning and that was just since yesterday.''
Phone lines had also been downed by the storm.
Constable Alaister Wells said police were investigating reports that a half-submerged campervan had been spotted in floodwaters near Ahaura.
Felled trees across Iron Bridge on State Highway 6 in the Buller Gorge, near Inangahua, had reduced it to one lane, and trees were down in Arnold Valley Rd, inland from Greymouth, he said.
West Coast Fire Service area manager Mark Borer said there had been no fire-related callouts on the Coast overnight, despite lightning storms in many areas.
The only incident was a lightning strike that ignited a Fox Glacier house yesterday at lunchtime, but it was out by the time the volunteer brigade arrived.
Torrential rainfall overnight and this morning on the West Coast triggered flood alarms on the Grey and Hokitika rivers.
West Coast Regional Council hydrologist Stefan Beaumont said the Grey River peaked upstream mid-morning but had yet to reach its highest level downstream.
Its first-level alarm had activated, which was an early warning, and prompted the council to notify people involved with its Grey flood action plan, including Grey District Council and roading authorities.
The flood level peaked in the Hokitika Gorge at 4am, about a metre higher than its first-alarm level, but had dropped since then.
He said flood monitoring for the Buller River was disrupted after what was believed to be a lightning strike last night that knocked out the repeater and stopped communications from automated gauges in the gorge.
While information on the river's levels was still coming in from some areas, two council staff headed out this morning to monitor sites on the upper and lower Buller River until urgent repairs to the repeater were completed.
Beaumont said all rivers in the region were being monitored, with more heavy rain forecast for the West Coast this afternoon.
Federated Farmers adverse events spokeswoman and West Coast president Katie Milne said some dairy farmers were unable to milk this morning because of power cuts in parts of Canterbury, including Oxford, Loburn, Cheviot and Rolleston, plus some areas up the Grey Valley on the West Coast.
Pumping water to stock, particularly dairy cows, which had a high demand, was also a problem because of the power cuts.
''Troughs will be getting empty,'' she said.
Milne said power was predicted to be out for a few days in Oxford, Loburn and Cheviot, so farmers were scrabbling to access generators or make other arrangements.
She put out a public plea to anyone who could help to provide generators to contact Federated Farmers on 0800 327 646 or the trust on 0800 787254.
Westpower chief executive Rob Caldwell said lightning strikes around the region caused cuts of various durations.
''In some areas, winds were too severe to allow repairs to be undertaken safely, so small numbers of consumers would have been without power overnight.''
He said only a small number of people remained without power by noon today, and crews were working hard to restore power to them.