A group of 12 were stranded in waist-high swirling water in a flooded Whangārei petrol station overnight, after severe thunderstorms battered the Northland city.
The BP petrol station in Riverside Drive, Parahaki, was flooded after water started seeping under the door at 7.30pm.
A BP staff member there told the Herald a group of customers were stuck at the station.
"In the deepest spot it's probably waist deep. The whole place is pretty much under water. There's waves coming in the shop when people drive past and what not," he said.
The 25-year-old BP staffer said eight cars were stuck in the car park with water lapping at their sides about 9.30pm yesterday.
"Yeah pretty much [standing in water]. We've got a couple of customers here who are all trapped. So everyone here is pretty much trapped here at the moment," he said.
"It receded a bit but it's all come back now.
"I think they're all pretty much busy [emergency services]. There's not much we can do."
The staffer said the group of staff and customers stranded were calm.
"We ain't going nowhere. Everyone's pretty much chilling out talking and drinking coffee and eating pies," he said.
"The whole place is under water still."
As of midnight, only two of the original 12 customers had managed to leave the store.
A witness said a few customers made it out after the water dropped to around ankle high.
Floodwaters also hit The Real Cornish Pasty Company in Onerahi, south of Whangārei.
"It's at least halfway up my legs in the bakery at the moment," owner Derek O'Brien told the Herald.
"Everything in there is just floating around in the water."
O'Brien said the bakery was next to his home but it was now raining so heavily he couldn't get outside to check on his business again.
He said the floodwaters had come down the street, overwhelming the drains that council had cleared yesterday, and flowed under the doors of his business.
"It's like a tsunami coming down the hill".
He said he'd be in cleanup mode in the morning, rather than getting up early to bake about 200 pies and pastries.
Northland hammered by thunderstorms, lightning strikes, huge tornado
Severe thunderstorms hit Northland all day yesterday, but Whangārei was struck particularly hard last night, receiving 50mm of rain in an hour about 7pm.
At 7.30pm, emergency services received multiple reports of people trapped in their cars because of flooding on State Highway 1 near Puketona in the Far North.
Today's wild weather: People trapped in cars, flooded homes abandoned in Far North, SH1 closed
Emergency services responded to more than 200 calls after flooded homes, people trapped in cars, a huge tornado and closed highways impacted the province.
Residents in the area were choosing to abandon their homes because of flooding.
"There has been heavy rain around the Whangārei area with multiple flooding events across the city," a Fire and Emergency spokesperson said.
"We recommend people stay safe in their homes and contact the local civil defence."
A resident in Cobble Lane, just off Rawhiti St in the Whangārei suburb of Morningside, said she could see people being evacuated from their homes near the hall.
It looked like they were wading through ankle-deep water before climbing onto a big truck of some sort.
Police and Fire and Emergency both confirmed they were attending an job on Rawhiti St as of 8.30pm.
Murray Soljak, of Northland's Civil Defence Emergency Management, said it was not a state of emergency but he expected it to be a very busy night.
MetService forecaster Gerard Bellam said Whangārei had received the biggest thunderstorm of the day just before 7pm.
"Unfortunately tomorrow we've got periods of rain. Some possibly heavy falls, and there are some thunderstorms again also possible north of Whangārei," Bellam said.
"In the meantime we've nearly had about 50mm in the last hour in Whangārei airport just before 7pm. That's another thunderstorm."
Rain flooded parts of State Highway 1, closed roads between Okaihau and Kaitaia and at Moerewa near Bay of Islands.
Niwa reported 500-plus lightning strikes in Northland yesterday, and 125mm of rain in the Far North.
Elsewhere, a video of a huge tornado out at sea was filmed near Tupou Bay in the Far North after midday.
Bellam said the weather in Northland was forecast to be bad again today.