A kohanga reo has been devastated and homes damaged after a tornado ripped through a West Coast settlement this morning.
The destructive twister follows thunder and lightning strikes on homes and a Department of Conservation building, and the rescue of two men from a car as floodwaters rose.
The destructive wind funnel barrelled through Arahura Pa north of Hokitika, tearing buildings apart and leaving debris scattered in its wake. Thick pieces of wood were snapped like matchsticks and sheds disappeared skyward into neighbouring farmland.
Power remains off to the small settlement, which now faces a massive clean-up to repair broken windows, bowled fences and a kohanga reo that has been left unrecognisable. Its roof landed about 100m away across railway lines.
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu chairwoman Lisa Tumahai said the kohanga reo at Arahura Pa had borne the brunt of the twister.
"There are complete walls missing," said Tumahai.
She said several surrounding homes had been damaged and small backyard storage sheds had disappeared.
Those living in the path of the tornado described the ominous roar as it closed in on the community, travelling up the nearby river about 5.15am.
"They could hear the winds whistling and roaring.
"One of our family members had a look and saw debris flying through the air," she said.
She said timber from the kohanga's roof had been driven deep into the ground by the wild winds, narrowly missing a pet goat.
Tumahai said despite the widespread destruction no one was injured.
The kohanga reo had been in recess for the past six months but the building was being used for a Whanau Ora community initiatiave.
Tumahai was now with insurance assessors at the pa.
The Westland District Council said the tornado cut power and water to the township.
Residents were told to conserve water as the power cut affected the settlement's water pump. Electricity was not expected to be back for another three hours.
A police spokeswoman said the tornado had also destroyed railway crossing bells on Old Christchurch Rd at Awatuna.
"A mini tornado came through the area and took out crossing bells and road signs," she said.
A Fire and Emergency spokesman said firefighters had not been called.
Thunder bolts and lightning
Wild weather has also hit the North Island, where 30 lightning strikes hit land.
Three houses on the Manukau Heads were struck about by a bolt, badly damaging the roof of one house.
"One property, as a result of being struck by lightning, had damage to the roof - which resulted in a water leak, so the brigade assisted there," a spokesman said.
"The second property had smoke showing from power sockets and lighting fixtures and the third property had minor flooding."
Water was now leaking through the roof of one of the hit homes.
A Department of Conservation building in Waitomo also caught fire.
Fire and Emergency northern shift manager Jaron Phillips said the Pureora Forest Park DOC office on Barryville Rd was engulfed.
A fierce thunderstorm was over the Waitomo District at the time and a lightning strike may have sparked the blaze.
"There was a front moving across and there was a large storm at the time," said Phillips.
Fire crews from Mangakino, Benneydale, Tokoroa and Otorohanga were battling the blaze in the single-storey building.
Saved from the water
Meanwhile, two Californian tourists were also rescued from their parked vehicle after they became trapped by rising floodwaters at Ruakuri Reserve.
A police spokesman said firefighters, aged in their 20s, walked the pair to safety through the fast-rising floodwaters that had swamped the scenic reserve's car park.
Te Kuiti fire chief Phil New said as it was still dark, the men were unsure what to do so called emergency services for help.
He said firefighters waded through water more than a metre deep to rescue the pair - who were now speaking with local police - from their rented Toyota stationwagon.
New said the rain had been heavy all night and hadn't shown any sign of abating.
The settlement of Mangakino was also lashed by stormy weather.
Flooding and a lightning strike hit the main telephone network before dawn.
Phillips said fire crews encountered flooding leaving to fight the Pureora blaze.
A strike had triggered the fire alarm at the Mangakino Telephone Exchange and the town was now without landlines, he said.
MetService forecaster Tom Adams said the storms would give way to showery weather, but thunderstorms would hit later in the day, he said.