Storm brings death and destruction

Cale Wood starts to clean up his shed on Ockleston Landing in Hobsonville after a tornado hit the area. Photo /  Dean Purcell.
Cale Wood starts to clean up his shed on Ockleston Landing in Hobsonville after a tornado hit the area. Photo / Dean Purcell.

# Three people reported killed

# Damage reported across west Auckland and North Shore

# Reports of another tornado near Rotorua

# Tornado reported on Auckland motorway

# Severe surface flooding right across Auckland region

# 150 homes deemed uninhabitable

# Public transport services affected

# SH18 re-opens after several hours of closure

# Auckland Airport withdraw staff from tarmac

Three people have been killed and seven injured during a storm, including a tornado, that hit Auckland today, with another tornado hitting near Rotorua later this afternoon.

Police have confirmed the deaths and injuries. Two of those affected were believed to be involved in the construction of a school at Hobsonville Point and killed by a falling concrete slab, while another victim was reportedly hit by a tree.

Hawkins Construction has confirmed that there were a number of fatalities and injuries suffered by subcontractors at its Hobsonville School building site in West Auckland during this afternoon's devastating tornado.

Executive general manager Dan Ashby said the company's immediate focus was on supporting the affected workers' families, and its staff and subcontractors on site.

There has also been reports of another tornado touching down near Rotorua late this afternoon, bringing down hundreds of trees in the area.

The Fire Service told The Daily Post a small tornado went through Sunnex Rd at Hamurana at 3.20pm today.

Forty children understood to be from Mokoia Intermediate and 13 adults were at a horse riding class and were evacuated to a property on Sunnex Rd to make sure they were safe.

Some of the properties on Sunnex Rd were also evacuated.

Sunnex Rd resident Anne Bannan described the tornado as very loud and fierce.

"It was sort of like something banging against the house. It was so loud and fierce. I couldn't hear a thing. I couldn't see the bottom of the hill. The rain was so heavy. It was just blocking everything out. It was really scary," she said.

She said she had heard that a worker at a nearby property was in a light truck which was "twirled around" in the tornado.

She said the power lines were down in water and the road was completely blocked.

"The fire brigade is at the end of the road keeping a watch."

She said that at 5.30pm they had been without power for about two hours

About 150 homes were damaged at Whenuapai and many were deemed uninhabitable or were without power.

About 300 residents had been evacuated to Whenuapai Air Force Base and Auckland Council welfare staff were assisting them.

Electricity was off in numerous parts of Auckland including Henderson, Greenhithe, Hobsonville, Riverhead, Meadowbank and St Johns. There was widespread surface flooding on roads and motorways throughout Auckland and motorists are urged to take care or stay off the roads if possible.

Andy Gummer of St John said at least seven people had been taken to Auckland and North Shore hospitals.

"There might be some critical," he said.

A tornado hit Hobsonville during the storm, tearing down trees and ripping panels from the motorway.

Fire, police and ambulance raced to multiple callouts in Hobsonville and Upper Harbour.

Defence Force personnel were going door to door to check on people and emergency services were trying to clear blocked roads.

State Highway 18 - the main link between west Auckland and the North Shore reopened at about 4pm after it was closed for several hours this afternoon.

The storms brought down light poles, disabled motorway cameras and left sections of the motorway littered with debris.

The motorway's Squadron Drive on and off ramps, however, remain closed until further notice.

At 1.52pm MetService weather radar detected thunderstorms near Auckland, Orewa, Albany, the inner Hauraki Gulf, Daily Flat, Whangaparaoa and Silverdale.

Police Superintendent Bill Searle said a series of tornadoes passed through Hobsonville, and one of those touched down on a subdivision, causing damage to trees and buildings.

He told a media conference at Whenuapai Air Base that about 12 uniformed USAR personnel, who happened to be in the area at the time were gathering intelligence to help police but had not been formally deployed.

The Defence Force was on standby, and an emergency centre has been set up at the air base.

Mr Searle said the forecast was for more bad weather and people in the Hobsonville and Greenhithe areas should stay inside.

The Fire Service had received between 80 and 100 calls and more than 12 appliances have been sent to the area.

A Fire Service spokesman said there appeared to be "significant building damage" and a number of people had been trapped.

Fire Service spokesman Scott Osmond said a roof had caved in at a Mastertrade store and there were reports of chimneys being toppled and roofs blown off buildings in Hobsonville.

Fire Service area manager Murray Binning said appliances were responding to damage more widespread than the 1km zone at a construction site.

"There are houses with roofs off scattered all over west Auckland, so we're dealing with those too,'' he said.

"Shrapnel" flying through the air

Terrified west Auckland residents ducked for cover as the series of violent tornadoes ripped through their neighbourhoods this afternoon.

Witnesses said the tornado caused metal to fly through the air "like shrapnel", snapped large trees in half, and littered the streets of Whenuapai and Hobsonville with debris.

An outbuilding at the Whenuapai Pony Club was flattened by a tornado and hundreds of houses were left uninhabitable. The homeless were taken to Whenuapai Air Base, although many whose houses weren't damaged decided to get out of town anyway.

Hobsonville resident Sharon White said she could not believe her eyes when she saw her trampoline being picked up and flung at her lounge window.

"The hedges were blown over and it picked up my tramp, smashed it into the window, and my swing set also got picked up and smashed two other windows."

Scott Rd resident Lloyd Morris said pieces of corrugated iron had flown through the air like pieces of shrapnel and become embedded in his lawn.

"We've lost roofing tiles and what-not. The chimney pots have all gone The guttering is ripped off and all the trees have been demolished. We seem to have a lot of other people's stuff in our garden.

"There's a big stainless steel tub around the back of the house. I can't pick it up - it's too heavy. I don't know where."

Witness Matt Eade said he did not see the defined funnel shape of a tornado, but the wind was certainly swirling around violently.

"The hardest wind you can imagine was swirling around; it would go one way real fast and then back the other way - it kept changing directions. We were standing away from the windows because we were expecting them to crash in. It was one of those situations where we thought we could get swept away.

Kay Cres resident Tolly Derepa was among residents on Wallingford Way whose houses were left uninhabitable.

"The lounge is really badly damaged, it looked like everything just smashed through the windows and glass flew across the room. the roof is really badly damaged, I don't know how long it's going to hold up and it's leaking everywhere.''

Jeff Pilling said his trampoline had been flung about 50m. Around his house was corrugated iron, debris and nearby was a mangled portaloo.

He had fears for a herd of cows which had been in the next door paddock.

Whenuapai resident Suzanne McFadden said the tornado was like a roaring "juggernaut".

"We have no power, it honestly looks like a bomb has gone off in the street.

"I saw it coming across the river, the air went very electric and the sky went black. And then the wind started to whistle."

She said she saw trees coming up the street and then ran to the hall inside for cover.

"We were in the middle of it. It was a roar."

She said century-old pine trees had been uprooted, one even crashing through her neighbour's garage - crushing a van inside.

Because road access was blocked, residents were concerned for the wellbeing of their children at nearby Whenuapai School.

"We can't get out and nobody can get in, there are live power lines on the road. People who are getting home now are walking miles just to get home.

"This was like a juggernaut roaring through here. Everyone is really shaken up.''

Matt Eade said he was in his lounge when the tornado hit.

"The wind picked up real fast and then it rained real hard. The hardest wind you can imagine was swirling around; it would go one way real fast and then back the other way - it kept changing directions. We were standing away from the windows because we were expecting them to crash in. I thought it was one of those situations where we thought we could get swept away.

Power and was off at his house and firefighters had asked if he wanted to evacuate.

Whenuapai resident Jordan Carter said high winds had hit his house.

The fence had been blown down, trees uprooted and the lid of the spa pool gone, he said.

"Like a knife through butter"

Prime Minister John Key extended his condolences to the friends and families of those who had died.

"This must have been an extremely frightening situation for many people in the local community,'' he said.

"This extreme weather event occurred in the heart of my electorate as well as Paula Bennett's electorate. I have been kept informed of the situation throughout the afternoon and am continuing to receive updates.''

Auckland Mayor Len Brown and councillors were briefed by the council's civil defence head and Mr Brown went to the operational base at Whenuapai this afternoon.

Mr Brown said all the residents from the evacuated properties were now homeless.

Most were homes tenanted by Air Force personnel and their families.

The homeless were taken to Whenuapai Air Base.

Air Force group captain Kevin McEvoy said some of the evacuated homes had missing roofs and window smashed.

Mr Brown visited the most damaged areas of Hobsonville this afternoon.

''[It looked] like a knife through butter for some of those trees,'' he said. "Devastating. This was clearly a major weather event. Our hearts are with the families."

Police asked schools to keep children inside until parents arrived to collect them.

- nzherald.co.nz, APNZ, NZ Herald staff

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 21 Dec 2014 03:07:46 Processing Time: 846ms