Power outages as strong winds hit central NZ

By Brendan Manning, Patrice Dougan, Kurt Bayer

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About 2300 homes are without power this afternoon after electricity lines were downed by strong winds across the country.

The Rimutaka Hill Rd has closed, parliament's weekly Cabinet meeting is at risk and flights have been cancelled as the gale-force winds lash the centre and south of the country.

Gusts have brought down trees and debris, which have torn down several overhead lines, disconnecting power to around 900 properties in the Wairarapa, Rangitikei and Manawatu, Powerco said.

In Canterbury falling trees have have also toppled power lines, leaving more than 1400 homes without power, according to Orion. The company said it expects to restore electricity by 6pm.

However, with gales of up to 130km/h forecast to hit Wairarapa this evening Powerco has warned people to prepare for further possible outages.

Network operations manager Phil Marsh warned the public to keep clear of any damaged lines and report them.

"Power lines that have fallen to the ground may look safe but they're very often still live. Live lines can kill,'' he said.

"Keep yourselves, your children, pets and livestock well away from any downed lines and call Powerco.''

Mr Marsh said extra field staff had been called in to restore power and make lines safe.

Canterbury farmers have been battered by thes 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.

The majority of flights to and from Wellington International Airport have been cancelled until further notice due to severe weather in the capital, a statement from the airport company says.

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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.


Motorists have been advised to avoid travelling on the Milford Rd today as high winds and driving rain make conditions treacherous.

The Transport Agency has issued a warning, asking people to put off all non-essential travel on the road.

The Milford R re-opened from the Hollyford turn-off to Milford Sound at 1pm today, after being closed since 5pm last night because of heavy rain.

More than 157mm of rain fell between midnight and 1pm today the Transport Agency said, causing surface flooding and felling a large tree onto the highway at Walker Creek.

Poor weather is expected to continue to make this section of the highway difficult throughout today and tonight, with snow also being predicted.

"It is essential motorists carry chains if they have are travelling this route. Before setting off they should also phone 0800 44 44 49, or go to www.highwayinfo.govt.nz for the latest on road conditions,'' said Transport Agency senior network manager Peter Robinson.

Milford Rd will close again at 5pm from the Hollyford turn-off, with a decision on reopening made in the morning.


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.


Police say because of the dangers posed to traffic the decision has been made to close the Rimutaka Hill Road, SH2, until further notice

SH2 north of Masterton, specifically the Mt Bruce area remains open but motorists on bikes or in high sided vehicles are warned against travelling this road due to the conditions

Wellington police Acting Inspector Bruce Mackay said due to the high winds across the Wairarapa region, motorists were advised to drive only when absolutely necessary.

The wind had caused a truck to blow over just before 10am near the Mt Bruce wildlife sanctuary, north of Masterton, however the driver was not injured, he said.

"It's going to require a crane and we've got to make a decision whether it's a sensible decision to try that today.

"Bearing in mind it blew over in the first place, trying to lift it with a crane might not be an option."

A large tree has also come down onto State Highway 2 near Tauherenikau, south of Masterton.

Contractors were clearing the area but drivers were advised to expect delays.

Further south, Southern fire communications spokesman Mau Barbara said they had received 40 calls for weather-related incidents in the past 12 hours.

"Plus around about 14 calls to fires that had been caused because of weather-related incidents.

"We've had tiles lifting, roofs lifting, we had a roller door rolling down the road.

"This has been in the Geraldine, Oxford area - it's quite a wide area. It hasn't hit Christchurch as such."

Winds had subsided in Canterbury as the bout of wild weather moved north towards Wellington, Mr Barbara said.

The fires had been caused by powerlines toppling over onto trees, he said.

"No one's been injured as far as I know. We've had a tree on a caravan, but everyone got out okay.

Canterbury lines company Orion has reported that 1365 customers are without power due to lines faults and trees bringing down power lines.

The majority of affected customers were expected to have power restored by 6pm.

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.

- APNZ

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