The destructive storm that has swept over the country in the last 24 hours, damaging houses, roads and seawalls, as well as closing dozens of schools and leaving thousands without power, is finally easing.

The wind in Wellington last night reached near record levels of 200km/h, uprooting trees, downing power lines and ripping off roofs.

Many seaside roads around the harbour, particularly around the south coast, were damaged by huge waves.

The severe storm caused significant damage to the capital's electricity network and resulted in 30,000 homes and businesses without power at its peak.


About 5000 customers were still without power, with some rural residents not being reconnected for a few days.

Wellington Airport closed during the worst of the storm, but was now open, with some delays.

Further north a woman suffered a heart attack last night after a lightning bolt caused a boom that shattered windows and shook houses in a north Auckland suburb.

The foul weather also closed more than 150 schools across the country today. said the eastern side of both islands was still in the firing line of a very cold southerly tomorrow that would bring more wintry showers and snow on the hills.

But by tomorrow night the storm would be pushing away from the country.

MetService has warned that snow falling in eastern and Central Otago above 200 metres may become heavy overnight tonight.

Snow levels could reach warning levels of 10cm in 6 hours, or 25cm in 24 hours, above 300 metres tonight and early tomorrow morning.

Otago rivers remained high but levels are either steady or receding, but MetService said snowmelt and further rainfall might cause river levels to rise again quickly.

Weather analyst Aaron Wilkinson said Christchurch and inland Canterbury could see some more snow over the weekend.

In developments today:

* A ballet performance in Auckland tomorrow has been cancelled because five dancers from the Royal New Zealand Ballet were unable to fly to from Wellington to Auckland in time.

* A childhood holiday home of writer Katherine Mansfield was severely damaged by massive waves that crashed over the front of the beachfront Wellington property in last night's storm. The Days Bay property was among three damaged by the surging swell.

* Skiers around the country will be making the most of the big snow dumps at many skifelds, if they can get to them.

* Wellington Zoo is looking after three albatross, three shags, a fairy prion, a cape pigeon and a giant petrel found following the storm in the capital.