Storm and winds leave long-term damage

By Abby Gillies, John Weekes, Kirsty Wynn, Cherie Howie, Ray Cleaver

Storm damage in Patea after a weather bomb passed over the lower North Island. Photo / Kevin Bone
Storm damage in Patea after a weather bomb passed over the lower North Island. Photo / Kevin Bone

Powerful winds and foul weather that battered sections of the country this weekend has left long-term damage in its wake, says a power company.

Powerco, the country's second largest electricity and gas distribution utility, will have to rebuild sections of its electricity network following a storm that tore a strip across the North Island yesterday, cutting power to tens of thousands of people as high winds and falling trees took down power lines.

Almost 50,000 homes across the North Island suffered power cuts with 16,000 houses expected to be without power across Wanganui and Taranaki last night. Auckland suffered intermittent outages to about 4000 homes.

Inpsections by Powerco workers yesterday confirmed "severe" damage to the network. Around 600 overhead lines were brought down and a large number of poles damaged in South Taranaki and Whanganui.

It may take three to four days to fully restore supply to some customers where damage was extensive or access was difficult, said Powerco general manager electricity Andrew McLeod.

He said all available resources had been brought into the hardest hit areas of South Taranaki and Whanganui. The number of properties without power had dropped from 30,000 yesterday to about 11,500 this morning.

The small Taranaki town of Patea, which bore the brunt of yesterday's fierce storm, looked like "a war zone".

Townsfolk will today begin to clean up from a ferocious battering, which ripped roofs from more than 50 houses - more than 10 per cent of the homes in town - and left its commercial centre in ruins.

Barbara Prentice and husband Colin recalled the moment the storm hit.

"There was this dreadful noise, this tremendous bang. My husband said, 'We've lost the roof'. It was absolutely frightening - I've never prayed so much in my life and it worked.

"You can always replace a house, but you can't replace a person."

The storm tore a strip across the North Island, cutting power to tens of thousands of people as high winds and falling trees took down power lines.

Events in the Queen City diced with the weather or were postponed. Derby Day at Auckland Cup Week went ahead although Fashion in the Field was moved indoors.

The Black Caps' match against South Africa at Eden Park went ahead, giving the visitors an opportunity to crush the home team. The Classic Hits Winery Tour featuring the Mutton Birds, Gin Wigmore and Avalanche City was postponed until today.

In Patea, the Prentices' home succumbed after 130 years of resisting earthquakes and storms. Almost all of the roof was removed by winds before torrential rain drenched the home and its contents.

"We'll survive," Barbara Prentice said. "I've been weeping all morning, but it's time to pull myself together.''

"We thought it was an earthquake," said their daughter Alison Mudgway. The storm was so violent it even woke her deaf father when his roof was ripped off.

The Prentices were trapped by debris strewn across their driveway. Their son Gary had to rescue them after racing to the wrecked house yesterday morning. Mudgway said Patea looked like "a war zone".

Bruce and Carol Taylor lost the roof of the sunroom, and then had one of the sunroom walls smash through the front door of their Essex St house. Their garage roof was torn loose and thrown through the conservatory their neighbour had just built on to his home, destroying it.

Janice Murray woke at 5am to the sound of smashing glass at her Lincoln St home.

"We were shaking, just pleased to be alive, there was glass everywhere. The roaring of the wind was horrific. It was like a train roaring through the house."

On Leicester St, Nicki Bougen said it was the worst storm she had experienced in 52 years.

"Whole [shop] frontages are gone, there is tin wrapped around lampposts, power poles and fences are down. The place is absolutely devastated."

Pastor Marilyn Broughton said it would take a long time for Patea to return to normal. "It was the worst storm in living memory for many residents."

The wider South Taranaki region sustained massive damage. Plantations of trees were snapped mid-trunk from the force of the winds and many buildings were badly damaged.

Windows in homes and shops were blown out by the force of the storm and others were smashed by loose roofing iron. Locals took cover from sheets of corrugated iron flying at head height along town streets.

In Hawera, horse-riding eventers made a daring rescue of 90 stabled horses, which were in town for an equestrian event.

Taranaki Civil Defence's Craig Stevenson said 50 houses in Patea and 20 in nearby Waverley had lost roofs. Another 10 roofs were lost in Hawera.

Stevenson said 30 volunteers were checking that residents were safe and kept informed.

A welfare centre had been set up at the Patea Old Folks Hall to find accommodation for those who could not stay at home. The local marae was operating as emergency accommodation.

Federated Farmers' Taranaki dairy chairman Derek Gibson said the damage could be devastating for the region.

"Without power you can't milk and you can't chill the milk," Gibson said. Fonterra had told him some would not be collected, possibly leading to thousands of litres a day being dumped.

Chaos reigned across the island with trees down in Auckland. Zia Ahmad's family had a narrow escape when a tree on a neighbouring property almost struck their Henderson home.

"We are lucky there was no damage and it didn't fall on top of the house because I have a baby and he was sleeping at the time,'' he said.

Power lines were knocked down by trees, which also fell across roads. Heavy rain in Wanganui led to the sewage pump station discharging into the Whanganui River. Wellington's Fernlea School was flooded.

Topping off a day of unusual weather, Nelson residents were welcomed to autumn with the sight of snow on hills around the town.

Abby Gillies of APNZ and John Weekes, Kirsty Wynn, Cherie Howie and Ray Cleaver of Herald on Sunday

- Herald on Sunday

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