A mini tornado tore a trail of destruction through Hairini early yesterday, picking up a six-burner barbecue like it was a toy, tearing off tiles and destroying fences and trees.
It struck about 5.30am yesterday, making landfall on the bank under Hairini Marae and then zigzagging its way around the bottom end of Haukore St.
Residents in the path of the twister felt their houses shake and rattle, with several fearing they would lose their roofs.
Worst hit were houses along the Waimapu Estuary side of the street, but even there its impact was selective, with some houses showing scarcely any signs of damage.
The tornado was preceded by a severe electrical storm across the city. On Cameron Rd the impact was so severe it tore the facade off the Target Furniture building and destroyed business signs on the other side of the road.
Hairini and former Christchurch resident Grant Moore was woken by the noise of outdoor furniture flying around.
He pulled the blind just in time to see the chocolate-brown funnel of the tornado.
The house shook so much that pictures fell off walls and he remembered thinking 'here we go again'. "It sounded just like the Christchurch earthquake ... it caused so much damage - it was unbelievable."
Further around Haukore St, resident Rob Lawrence lost much of the fibrolite off his front fence.
"I was awake because of the lightning and thunder and then I heard this roar coming."
He said the house shook so much that he felt lucky not to have lost the roof. "It felt like it was going to take off."
Former Wellingtonian Murray Bates was used to strong winds but things "went crazy" when the tornado hit. It skipped over the house with so much force that he thought the roof was coming off and then it snapped a totara tree by the side of the house.
"Everything that got in its way snapped - it was scary. It was more the sudden shaking and shuddering and not knowing what was going on," Mr Bates said.
One of the worst affected properties belonged to Rosemary and Neville Moor. The tornado blew out a 10mm thick glass balustrade on the side of their verandah and pushed over a wooden boundary fence, damaging their neighbour's house and breaking a window. They also lost roof tiles.
"The wind was really whistling around," she said.
Rose Harawira and Witika Tutengaehe's trampoline flew up and punctured a hole in a neighbour's roof before continuing its flight to end up on top of a nearby garage.
Part of their steel roof lifted, they lost a glass outdoor table, some chairs and even a six-burner barbecue, which they hoped to find once the tide went out.
"I've been here 25 years and never experienced anything like this. It was fairly intense."
Greerton Fire Service station officer Paul Van Kol said they were kept busy for nearly two and a-half hours dealing with the four houses that lost tiles and checking out the neighbourhood.
The Tauranga Fire Service laid tarpaulins over part of the roof of a house at 31 Fraser St that lost tiles during the storm.