Tornadoes hit Canterbury

Last updated 05:00 24/02/2014

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Amberley resident Leanne McTear watched in horror from her doorstep as a tornado tore the roof from her house and plunged her into darkness.

Canterbury residents face a cleanup today after a "supercell" thunderstorm created at least two tornadoes that damaged about 20 more properties in the region.

The storm yesterday afternoon felled powerlines, sparked fires and pummelled the region with large hailstones.

A tornado hit near Amberley, North Canterbury, about 6pm, severely damaging four homes. A smaller tornado briefly formed near Leeston in Mid-Canterbury earlier in the day but caused less significant damage.

McTear had just returned from walking her dogs when the roaring winds and deafening noise reached her house.

"I was standing at the front door watching it. I went to shut the door and then everything went dark, and there was just black dust and smoke whirling around.

"There was this horrendous noise and I was waiting for the ground to move."

The roof of her house now lay on her lawn, down her driveway, and across State Highway 1. A tunnel house from a nursery directly behind her house was firmly planted high in a towering tree alongside the road.

"I didn't know what was going on until I saw someone throw a piece of sheet iron over the road and I thought: That's a bit rude. Then I realised it was my iron."

McTear had only moved into the house three weeks ago, after leaving Christchurch and her asbestos-ridden Shirley home.

"This is my wee haven away from all the crap that I've had. I can't be bothered starting again."

The sounds of chainsaws filled the air on the eastern side of Amberley, where residents of Double Corner Rd had started the clean-up process last night.

A clear path of wind-swept destruction was visible in the line of uprooted trees, buckled fences and mangled powerlines.

James Murray had just sat down for dinner with his wife, Pat, when the "big wind gust" rammed into their house.

"I looked out the window and I thought, hell's teeth," he said.

A large tree had pierced their kitchen wall and was lodged firmly in the side of their house.

The couple were thankful they had not been hurt, but their nerves remained on edge. "I just opened a bottle of wine," James Murray said.

Neighbour Jynette Parker's house had been "pounded" by airborne trees.

"It was mindblowingly powerful winds and we were being hammered by golf ball-sized hailstones. It was the most terrified I've ever been in my life. A hundred feet up in the air there was hunks of metal going around."

She said the onslaught lasted at least five minutes.

Donna Graham, who has lived in Amberley for 20 years, said she and husband Geoff saw "trees shredded" before hailstones battered their house.

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"I was really frightened ... it was just so dark-looking and it was so close."

She said debris started hitting her home and she was scared the windows were going to smash.

"On one hand, it's really magnificent but I was ready to hide in the cupboard if I had to."

Graham said the extreme weather had shaken her up."I just honestly have never seen anything like it," she said.

Blue Skies forecaster Tony Trewinnard lives near Amberley and watched as the tornado formed. He said it was travelling about 70kmh and hurled debris about 100 metres into the air.

"It didn't have a classic tornado shape until it got very much closer to where I was, then it formed into the classic funnel shape of a tornado cloud.

"It spent about two to three minutes in the classic tornado shape."

MetService meteorologist Chris Noble said the thunderstorm formed off the coast of Timaru and made its way north in the late afternoon. hitting Christchurch about 5pm.

The thunderstorm was "technically classed as a supercell" and had caused heavy rain, large hailstones and small tornadoes.

"When a thunderstorm grows and exhibits those severe characteristics, it's a supercell," he said.

The region could expect fine conditions with northeasterlies today.

Fire Service shift manager Andrew Norris said there were no injuries related to the tornado.

A smaller tornado briefly formed near Leeston in south Canterbury earlier in the day.

"Stormchaser" Stephen Burrows captured the small tornado on his video camera.

"I could see some dust being kicked up around it. It seemed to be about 100 metres wide but quite weak," he said. "It reached down to the ground.

"It wasn't a traditional, American one where it is a direct line from the cloud to the ground but you could see it reached the ground and it was full of dust."

Canterbury resident Inca Woodroffe saw the smaller tornado from her home.

"I was watching the thunder and lightning and I could see the swirling front of the storm. It was moving slowly, but then it started to get a bit faster in the middle and the clouds came down and formed a funnel. It was coming down lower and lower."

A Christchurch police spokesman said about three or four trees had fallen on to power lines at Southbridge sparking a fire in a paddock.

Lightning strikes caused a small fire in Halswell and there was some damage, including leaking roofs at Burnham Military Camp, across the region.

Power was cut to about 400 Orion customers last night.

- The Press


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