A suspected tornado which damaged 15 homes in the Far North — two of them seriously — also left shards of glass up to 30cm long embedded in a family's living room wall.

Chrystal Kirkwood can't bear to think what would have happened if her family had been home when the ''mini tornado'' struck about 10.40am yesterday.

The freak wind swept in off Doubtless Bay and left a trail of destruction through Coopers Beach, lifting roofs, flattening fences, shattering windows and spreading debris along a trail more than 500m long.

Diana Mokaraka talks about the moment her home's roof peeled off and the windows blew in; Kaitaia fire chief Craig Rogers talks about the carnage when he first arrived at the scene in Doubtless Bay.

It peeled the roof off Kirkwood's rented home on State Highway 10 like a sardine can lid and blew out most of the windows on the seaward side.

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Kirkwood had left the house 10 minutes earlier and was on her way to Kaitaia; her husband was in Whangārei and their three kids were at school.

The roof of Chrystal Kirkwood's home was peeled off like a sardine can lid. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The roof of Chrystal Kirkwood's home was peeled off like a sardine can lid. Photo / Peter de Graaf

She raced home to find her home trashed with dagger-like glass shards embedded in the sofa and living room wall. Windows had also blown out upstairs leaving her bed strewn with glass.

''It's just devastating, it's heart wrenching, especially when you see shards of glass in the wall at head height ... We are very, very lucky. If this had happened at night it could have had a tragic outcome. It's a scary thought.''

Chrystal Kirkwood can't bear to think what would have happened if her family had been watching TV when shards of glass up to 30cm long slammed into the wall at head height. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Chrystal Kirkwood can't bear to think what would have happened if her family had been watching TV when shards of glass up to 30cm long slammed into the wall at head height. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Kirkwood's house was one of two declared uninhabitable after a council inspection.

The family planned to stay with relatives in Hihi last night. Civil Defence staff, who carried out welfare checks at affected homes, told her they would arrange accommodation in a Mangonui motel while they looked for somewhere else to stay.

Next door John and Diana Mokaraka's home was also badly damaged.

Council building inspector David Currie surveys the damage to John and Diana Mokaraka's home. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Council building inspector David Currie surveys the damage to John and Diana Mokaraka's home. Photo / Peter de Graaf

They were relaxing in their front room watching TV when they heard the wind pick up.

''We thought, that's a strong wind ... then we heard a roar, the windows popped in and the roof lifted off,'' John Mokaraka said.

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As the windows blew out Diana Mokaraka threw herself in front of her husband to shield him from flying glass. Both suffered multiple cuts and were patched up by St John Ambulance medics.

They would stay with friends until the house, which belonged to a family member, was repaired.

John and Diana Mokaraka were watching TV in their front room when the roof blew off and the windows blew out, showering them with broken glass. Photo / Peter de Graaf
John and Diana Mokaraka were watching TV in their front room when the roof blew off and the windows blew out, showering them with broken glass. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Council building inspector David Currie was working a few houses away on Torsby Rd when the wind struck.

''I head this roaring noise coming up the beach. The wind hit me and debris was flying through the air — roofing material, a trampoline — as I was running for cover,'' Currie said.

''I had to run about 50m down the hill, the home owner let me in and I shot inside. It was all over in about a minute and a half.''

Kaitaia fire chief Craig Rogers described the scene as
Kaitaia fire chief Craig Rogers described the scene as "carnage". Photo / Peter de Graaf

Firefighters from Mangonui and Kaitaia responded along with a Fire and Emergency NZ mobile command unit from Whangārei.

Kaitaia fire chief Craig Rogers described the scene that greeted him as ''carnage''.

''There was rubbish and debris everywhere, roofs lifted, iron all over the place, and a lot of people running around not knowing what to do.''

It was ''very lucky'' no one had been seriously injured.

Firefighters had been helping residents clean up, securing damaged property and making sure they knew to contact their insurance company and get emergency repairs underway.

It was not the first time Coopers Beach had been hit by a ''mini tornado'' — in May 2015 another tore off a roof just a few houses away on SH10, while before that one had hit the Stratford Dr area.

The tornado slammed a piece of timber into the wall of an unoccupied house about 4m off the ground. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The tornado slammed a piece of timber into the wall of an unoccupied house about 4m off the ground. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The damage was concentrated on SH10 and Torsby Rd, where a car port was demolished and a bay window peeled off a house. On Freyja Cres a piece of timber was embedded in the wall of an unoccupied house about 4m off the ground.

Roofing iron, window framing, ceiling insulation and fence palings were strewn over a wide area.

Locals pitched in to lend a hand with one resident bringing around food and others pitching in with brooms and buckets.

Volunteers help clean up John and Diana Mokaraka's front room, which lost its roof and windows when the tornado hit. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Volunteers help clean up John and Diana Mokaraka's front room, which lost its roof and windows when the tornado hit. Photo / Peter de Graaf

MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray could not confirm if it was a tornado without seeing footage.

However, conditions were right for tornadoes yesterday with thunderstorms embedded in a front moving across Northland.

Given the scale of the damage it had to be either a tornado or a severe downblast, she said.

Workers on the roof of Chrystal Kirkwood's damaged home with Doubtless Bay in the distance. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Workers on the roof of Chrystal Kirkwood's damaged home with Doubtless Bay in the distance. Photo / Peter de Graaf

MetService had earlier issued a severe thunderstorm watch which included a risk of tornadoes.

A second ''mini tornado'' yesterday struck a shed in Kaiwaka, in the Kaipara district, scattering a family's stored belongings across a paddock.