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Cloud is building and skies have started to darken in northern areas of the country as ex Tropical Cyclone Lusi bears ever closer.
Residents have been warned to prepare for the worst, as forecast gales, heavy rain and coastal swells threaten to cause localised flooding, slips, road closures and power cuts.
Firefighters have already been called out to a small number of incidents in the Far North.
Downed power lines fell into a nearby paddock in Kaeo, while strong winds caused a tree to topple across a road in Parahaki, north of Whangarei, Fire Service northern communications shift commander Jaron Philips said.
Rain has begun to lash northern parts of the country, and winds are beginning to pick up.
In Auckland preparations are continuing for tomorrow's expected stormy weather.
Auckland harbourmaster Andrew Hayton said all staff would be on call over the weekend.
Boaties should check the moorings of their boats before the worst of the weather comes in, he said.
"We don't want people going out in a small dinghy at the height of the storm to check on their boats.''
Mr Hayton said he would be in regular contact with Ports of Auckland officials to manage the situation.
"We've looked at some of the big ships and decided we'd keep them out at sea.
"The winds are just a bit too strong to manoeuvre some of these vessels safely in port,'' he said.
No cruise ships were due to dock in Auckland until Monday.
It was up to the individual ship master to decide whether they would sail through any rough conditions, Mr Hayton said.
A Fullers Ferry spokeswoman advised passengers to check the organisation's website and Facebook page for updates.
Staff were monitoring the weather closely, and cancellations and postponements would be made if appropriate, she said.
All passengers who had prebooked their tickets were entitled to a refund if shippings changed due to the weather, she said.
Cyclone expected tonight
The deadly cyclone is expected to hit northern New Zealand tonight, with the brunt of the storm to be felt across the North Island tomorrow as it tracks southwest just off the coast of the country, before hitting the South Island on Sunday.
Severe weather warnings have been issued for Northland, Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Nelson and Marlborough.
Northland could expect 80mm-100mm of rain by tomorrow afternoon, MetService said.
The rain should spread quickly southwards, totalling more than 100mm in Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne by Sunday morning.
Easterly gales will accompany the heavy rain, with gusts of 120km/h in Northland, Auckland and Coromandel Peninsula, and 130km/h west of the Kaimai Range.
An extra 26 firefighters and five fire engines have already been sent to Kerikeri as an emergency back-up to support local crews in the north in advance of the storm hitting.
The MetService watch also covered the possibility of severe easterly gales about the Central Plateau and Nelson tomorrow.
Also in the upper South Island, Marlborough and Nelson look set to receive the most intense rainfall, with up to 170mm accumulating in the Nelson ranges from tomorrow afternoon till noon on Sunday.
A watch was being maintained for areas just west of the main ranges, including the Central Plateau, Ruahine and Richmond Ranges, also the Tasman Mountains, which were likely to see very gusty downslope winds.
"This will be a significant adverse weather event, affecting large parts of northern and central New Zealand," MetService said.
"The heavy rain is likely to cause slips and surface flooding, and the severe easterly gales could make driving hazardous, lift roofs, and bring down trees and powerlines."
Coastal communities have been warned to watch out for swells and storm surges, particularly around high tide, Civil Defence cautioned. While boaties have been advised to secure their boats ahead of the encroaching storm, and avoid going out to sea over the weekend.
Motorists have also been advised to take extra care on the roads, or stay indoors. A number of Auckland ferry services have been cancelled.
Elsewhere, electricity companies have warned customers to be prepared for the possibility of outages as a result of the wild weather. It is advised people stay clear of downed power lines or damaged electrical equipment , and call their electricity provider immediately.
'Neighbour helping neighbour'
Auckland's coastal communities are being warned it's a case of "neighbour helping neighbour" as Cyclone Lusi is expected to move through the region tonight and tomorrow.
Residents in communities such as Orewa and Omaha are being warned to prepare for power cuts and to avoid unnecessary travel during the worst of the weather.
Two-metre swells are expected near beaches north of Whangaparoa, with a risk of sand erosion and potential damage to beachfront properties, says Auckland City Council.
You can track Cyclone Lusi in real time here.
At a briefing this afternoon, Council Civil Defence controller Clive Manley said the council had been working with coastal communities on a response plan, and would provide resources to help them.
"[But] at a local level its neighbour helping neighbour."
If "relatively few" residents were displaced, accommodation would be provided around Auckland, but if large-scale evacuations were needed, the council would set up response centres.
Council manager of planning and intelligence Richard Woods said considerable swells were expected in the Hauraki Gulf tomorrow morning, and would be strongest two hours either side of high tide at 7.29am.
When it will hit
Cyclone Lusi is forecast to move out of the tropics today and track west of the North Island tomorrow, before crossing the South Island on Sunday, according to the latest MetService forecast.
MetService meteorologist Dan Corbett told Radio New Zealand today would be relatively calm before a "dramatic change" tonight.
"As we work towards the end of the day we start to see the effects, the outer bands, of this large mass of rain moving into the Far North of the country by the afternoon and evening."
"But it's tonight and into Saturday when the beast will really show its fangs and teeth."
Most of the country would need to "batten down the hatches" with heavy and potentially flooding rains, Mr Corbett told RNZ.
Vector: Be ready for power cuts
Meanwhile, electricity company Vector has warned customers to be prepared for the possibility of outages as a result of the wild weather.
Chief executive Simon Mackenzie said stormy weather could be very unpredictable and have a significant impact on the electricity network.
"We do not expect too many issues but recommend that customers always be prepared for the possibility of an outage during inclement weather."
Vector's field crews had been put on alert and all efforts would be made to respond to any outages as soon as possible. However, crews would only work if it is safe for them to do so, Mr Mackenzie said.
People using medical equipment that relies on electricity should always ensure they were prepared for power disruptions and if there is an immediate health threat, contact their health provider or call 111.
Warning for boaties
Auckland boaties are being warned to secure boats today before expected rough weather arrives this evening.
Strong winds and rough seas are anticipated, which can cause boat moorings to break and result in boat damage and navigation hazards.
Auckland harbourmaster Andrew Hayton said boat owners should check the moorings of boats regularly to ensure they were secure.
"The middle of a gale is not the time to be trying to secure a boat.
"Boats that break free from moorings can cause significant damage to themselves and other vessels."
The Harbourmaster's team often picked up boats adrift during bad weather but in more extreme weather it could be unsafe for patrol vessels and crew to be on the water, he said.
Boat owners are responsible for making sure their boats were secure.
Three dead in Vanuatu
Lusi has already killed at least three people in Vanuatu including a 6-year-old boy trapped in a mudslide, and an elderly man and woman hit by flying debris in two separate incidents, according to Paolo Malatu, Vanuatu humanitarian team national co-ordinator said.
Another six, all women and children from the worst-hit island of Santo, have been declared missing and are thought to have been buried in mudslides.
The number of dead and missing was expected to increase as communications systems were re-established on the island nation, Mr Malatu said.
His wife Jessica, who works at the Melanesian Port Vila Hotel, said locals around the capital had been well prepared. "The winds were very strong, and there was heavy rain."
Jine Freed, who works at the Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa at the Erakor Lagoon in Port Vila, was able to return to her family for the worst of the storm.
While the wind had brought down banana trees and caused some flooding at her family home, it could have been worse, Ms Freed said. "Luckily, the [worst] rain and the wind was out at sea."
'Bugger it, we'll give it a go'
A Waikato farming couple will go ahead with their outdoor wedding tomorrow - despite the threat of Tropical Cyclone Lusi bearing down on the region.
About 120 guests are expected at the wedding of Brogan Collins and Dani McLaren on the Ngaruawahia farm of Ms McLaren's parents.
Mr Collins said they had planned to hold the ceremony on a deck, with guests gathered on the lawn, and hold the reception in a marquee. Photos were to be taken on the farm.
"Everything's organised, so we thought, 'Bugger it, we'll give it a go'," he said. "We're just hoping we just catch a little side of it [the cyclone].
"Worst-case scenario, we've got a school hall booked, so if it's too windy for the marquee, we can run back to the school."
The couple, who are farming at Ohaupo, south of Hamilton, have been together for six years and have a 6-month-old daughter. Mr Collins, 21, said they were happy to get rain - they just didn't want it on their wedding day.
"I'm a dairy farmer so I want it, but on the other hand I'm getting married so I don't want it."
He said they were determined to enjoy the day, regardless of the weather. "It's what you make of it."
Weekend events changed due to weather:
• The Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Rotorua on Saturday has been shortened from a 22-hour event to an eight-hour event
• The Auckland West Relay For Life has been cancelled. People can transfer to Auckland North Relay on 29/30th March. For more info go to www.relay.org.nz.
• Panasonic People's Triathlon at Maraetai Beach on Sunday has been postponed until March 30
• Salty Classic fishing competition 2014 cancelled
• Kaurilands Primary School Fun Fair, postponed to March 29
• Auckland's Silo Park cinema screening on Friday, cancelled
• Whangaparaoa Gala postponed until March 22.
* 360 Discovery ferry services cancelled:
- Coromandel: Friday and Saturday
- Tiritiri Matangi from Downtown and Gulf Harbour, Saturday
- passengers should check www.360discovery.co.nz as Sunday service to Tiritiri Matangai may also be cancelled
Events which could be affected:
• Chiefs vs Stormers, Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, Friday
• Hurricanes vs Cheetahs, Westpac Stadium in Wellington, Saturday
• Vodafone Warriors v St. George Illawarra Dragons at Eden Park, Saturday
• Te Houtaewa challenge, 90 Mile Beach, Saturday
• Bayswater Auto Show and Family Fun Day, Bayswater School, Sunday
• Harbourview Sculpture trail, Te Atatu Peninsula, open until March 30
• Final series in the Swim Rotorua Open Water Swim, Lake Okataina, Sunday
• Rotorua Walking Festival, Saturday and Sunday
• Tarawera Ultramarathon, Saturday
• Rotorua's Pasifika Family Fun Day event
• Womad music festival, Taranaki, Friday - Sunday
• Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta, Thursday - Sunday
• Wairarapa Wine Festival on Saturday
Before a storm:
• Develop a household emergency plan. Assemble and maintain your emergency survival items, as well as a portable getaway kit.
• Prepare your property by securing large heavy objects and any item which could become a deadly or damaging missile.
• Keep materials at hand for repairing windows, such as tarpaulins, boards and duct tape.
When a warning is issued and during a storm:
• Stay informed on weather updates. Listen to your local radio stations for advice for your community and situation.
• Put your household emergency plan into action and check your getaway kit.
• Secure, or move indoors, all items that could get blown about in strong winds.
• Close windows, external and internal doors. Pull curtains and drapes over unprotected glass areas.
• If the wind becomes destructive, stay away from doors and windows and shelter inside the house.
• Water supplies can be affected so store drinking water in containers and fill bathtubs and sinks.
• Power cuts are possible in severe weather. Unplug small appliances which may be affected by electrical power surges, and if power is lost, unplug major appliances.
• Bring pets inside. Move stock to shelter. If you have to evacuate, take your pets with you.
After a storm:
• Listen to your local radio stations for the most appropriate advice for your community and situation.
• Check for injuries and help others if you can, especially people who require special assistance.
• Look for and report broken utility lines.
• Contact your local council if your house has been severely damaged.
• If your property or contents are damaged take notes and photographs and contact your insurance company.
Detailed advice is at www.getthru.govt.nz.