Up to 15 houses were left with missing roofing iron and tiling, along with broken windows, after what appeared to be a tornado ripped through Kaitaia this afternoon.

Fire northern communications centre shift manager Jaron Phillips said strong and sudden winds hit the town about 12.40pm, damaging houses and felling trees.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, he said.

Fire crews from Whangarei and several outlying townships had been called to Kaitaia to assist.

Homes in Pukepoto Rd and Worth St at the south end of the town appeared worst affected, and Kaitaia Hospital also suffered serious damage with a tree taking out a transformer and a boiler roof being blown off.

A staging area and command post have been set up in the town and fire fighters were assessing damage and looking after affected residents.

Weatherwatch analyst Philip Duncan says there were more than 1000 lightning strikes over Northland in the hour to 3pm and that the front which brought the tornado to Kaitaia is now moving through Whangarei as it heads south.

People are advised to stay indoors during the thunderstorms and to find a small room on the sheltered side of the house if they see a tornado.

* To see the Weather Watch Centre's live lightning tracker, click here.

- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF