John Weekes is an NZME News Service reporter based in Wellington.

'Vile' storm hits country

Weather grounds planes and cuts power to thousands.

Cuddles the cat escaped by a whisker yesterday when a tree destroyed the conservatory and deck of a Beach Haven home. Photo / Doug Sherring
Cuddles the cat escaped by a whisker yesterday when a tree destroyed the conservatory and deck of a Beach Haven home. Photo / Doug Sherring

Wild weather grounded planes, caused an avalanche, and left 700 cruise ship passengers stranded as a vicious storm lashed the country yesterday.

Power was cut to hundreds of homes across greater Auckland and windows were blown out in the severe conditions keeping emergency services and glaziers busy.

"It was quite vile out there for the faults crews," Vector spokeswoman Sandy Hodge said.

Tall buildings in Auckland's CBD created "wind tunnels" where gusts topped 110km/h, WeatherWatch analyst Philip Duncan said.

Wind cracked a large window pane on the 10th floor of the Stamford Plaza in Albert St, forcing firefighters to send it smashing to the street below.

A section of the street was cordoned off as firefighters used the room's curtains to push the glass on to the footpath.

But some relief is in store: the forecast for the long weekend is expected to be calmer.

The storm's centre will move eastwards into the Pacific this morning but strong southwesterly winds could bring rain to western parts of New Zealand in the week ahead.

Emergency services up and down the country had a busy night and the fire service responded to more than 180 weather-related callouts.

Auckland Glass employee Gaylene Morgan said they had been bombarded with requests for window repair.

"We're just going from one job to another," she said.

In Canterbury, 700 mainly American and European passengers from the Sea Princess were forced to stay in hotels after severe winds made it too dangerous for them to reboard their cruise.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism Caroline Blanchfield spokeswoman said the Akaroa community had rallied to help the stranded passengers, who were put up in Lyttleton and Christchurch hotels.

In Auckland trees were knocked over in Sunnynook and Glen Innes.

A house in Beach Haven was damaged when a tree fell on it, almost killing the family cat. Ruth Wilkin was relieved her cat Cuddles escaped by a 'whisker' when a tree destroyed the conservatory where she was having a nap.

Wilkin said when she saw the broken wood and shattered glass, she feared her beloved 16-year-old moggie had not managed to flee in time.

But a very bedraggled cat returned half an hour later "She was just very wet, very shaken but unharmed, thank goodness.

"I think she used up her nine lives today."

Philip Duncan said the jury was out on whether yesterday's stormy conditions indicated a true weather bomb.

In the South Island, 200- tonne rocks tumbled on to roads in Fiordland. The New Zealand Transport Agency closed the road at 4pm on Friday after the avalanche, cutting off people in Milford.

Last night a female pedestrian was killed in West Auckland after stepping out on to a busy road and being hit by a car.

The crash happened just after 8pm on Great North Rd, Glen Eden, near the intersection with West Coast Rd. A day of heavy rain meant the road was wet and slippery.

- Additional reporting by Celeste Gorrell Anstiss and Rebecca Quilliam of APNZ

Flight nightmare for passengers

Passengers were treated like 'hostages' after a Pacific Blue flight from Melbourne to Auckland was diverted to Tauranga yesterday due to dangerously high winds.

What should have been a three hour 36 minute flight for the passengers aboard Flight DJ164 became a prolonged nightmare after the flight twice had to abort landings as gusts reached over 100km/h.

After landing at Tauranga's domestic airstrip, passengers said they were then kept waiting on the tarmac for three hours with 'no communication'.

Auckland man Brendon Dixon told how passengers were forced on to buses for the three hour trip back to Auckland Airport to clear customs without being offered any food or drink.

Dixon posted on Facebook: "No food or drinks or any sign of when we might get home! Lots of angry people!!! Thanks Virgin! Never flying with you again!"

The passenger said he arrived in Auckland around midnight, eight hours late, and was offered a $20 voucher for an in-flight meal.

Air New Zealand were forced to cancel 24 services by 2.30pm due to the high winds. The airline also diverted five services by early afternoon.

- Herald on Sunday

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