Wild weather: Thousands of homes without power

By Patrice Dougan

The high winds brought down this scaffolding on Willis Street in Wellington, although there were no injuries. Photo / Richard MacLean
The high winds brought down this scaffolding on Willis Street in Wellington, although there were no injuries. Photo / Richard MacLean

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About 1000 homes in Canterbury are expected to remain without power overnight, as high winds hinder efforts to restore electricity.

Orion customers west and south of Darfield are being warned to prepare for a night without power, after the company battled with downed lines throughout today.

Around 1500 homes were without power at the height of the damage, after gusts caused falling trees and other debris to bring down overhead lines.

Orion said the strong winds also created a safety hazard for its workers attempting to fix the lines.

"Our efforts to restore power to these customers have been disrupted due to safety issues,'' said Orion operations manager Stu Kilduff.

"The threat of lightning strikes has meant that we have to withdraw our linemen from repairs. As you can imagine, being up a ladder fixing a power line is not the best place to be if lightning hits.''

He said the company had recalled a number of repair crews from the area.

"We're watching the weather closely and as soon as the risk to safety diminishes, those crews will return and continue with repair efforts,'' Mr Kilduff said.

"Weather permitting, and assuming no further outages, power should be restored to the majority of customers tomorrow.''

People are also being warned to stay away from fallen power lines, and report the damage to the power company.

The strong winds have also caused more issues further north - a number of pedestrians made a narrow escape as two-storey-high scaffolding collapsed in front of them on Willis Street shortly before 5pm, while most flights out of Wellington Airport this evening have been cancelled.

In mid-Canterbury a number of schools were also forced to close due to power outages today.

Mount Hutt College, Methven Primary, Our Lady of the Snows, Lauriston School, Carew Peel Forest School, Mt Somers Springburn School and Mayfield School have all closed today.

Trees are reportedly down on State Highway 72 Arundel Rakaia Rd, while the Arundel ridge looks likely to close because of sand storms.

The Milford Road has closed from 5pm tonight at the Hollyford turnoff, after heavy rain and strong winds caused treacherous driving conditions throughout the day.

A decision on whether to reopen it will be made in the morning.

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Canterbury farmers have been battered by the wild storm and high winds, but appear to have emerged largely unscathed.

The region suffered serious damage to thousands of trees and expensive dairy farm irrigation systems in last month's 40-year storm where gale force winds topped 130km/h.

While the winds that ripped through today were "certainly pretty rough'', the worst of it has passed, according to Rakaia farmer Gary McGregor.

While it was "still blowing pretty hard'', they were prepared this time round, he said.

Irrigators, which bore the brunt last month, were put down on the ground.

Cow sheds damaged last month were the biggest worry, Mr McGregor said, and they're currently tacking the rooftops down.

"We've had a few tress down that didn't go in the last one,'' said Mr McGregor.

"We got really bombed last month, and while this one was pretty serious, it seems like we've escaped the worst of it.''

Federated Farmers spokeswoman Katie Milne has received reports of more trees down, and power outages in the Methven and Springfield area.

"It's a bit frustrating. They've had it rough over the last month or so.''

This time round, however, farmers were more prepared for the winds and were able to be proactive and batten down the hatches.

She warned people to wait until the wind had calmed down before checking out their properties for damage.

Metservice meteorologist Daniel Corbett said parts of Canterbury were this morning being hit by extremely strong gusts, with 200km/h recorded on Mt Hutt.


The wind in Wellington has also put the weekly Cabinet meeting at risk as the flight cancellations prevented many ministers making it to Wellington.

Prime Minister John Key's flight to Wellington this morning was called off and minister Steven Joyce was diverted to Christchurch.

Mr Joyce tweeted he was now flying to Palmerston North and driving to Wellington. Cabinet has been delayed until 2pm, but could be cancelled altogether if the flight disruptions continue.


The bad weather has also delayed the arrival of Canterbury's first major cruise ship of the summer season.

Tomorrow's scheduled arrival of the Sea Princess into Akaroa Harbour has been delayed until 6am on Wednesday.

Quieter weather is expected tomorrow.

- Additional reporting by Brendan Manning, Kurt Bayer

- APNZ

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