VIDEO: Three killed, seven injured in Auckland storm
Thursday 6 Dec 2012 12:44 p.m.
At least three people have been killed following severe weather in west Auckland this afternoon.
A multiple agency response centre has been set up at Whenuapai Airbase following the dramatic downpour, during which seven people have been injured.
Four patients have been transported to North Shore Hospital and it is understood a steady stream of ambulances has been arriving since the storm hit.
A series of tornadoes which ripped through the area are understood to have damaged multiple buildings, leaving a trail of destruction from Hobsonville to Henderson.
3 News understands two people working on a building site near Hobsonville Point have been killed by falling concrete slabs. Emergency services are on the scene, where a new high school is being constructed, and cordons are in place.
A third person has also died in the storm, thought to have been hit by a falling tree.
RadioLIVE is reporting the two men killed at the construction site are in their 20s.
The victims' employer Hawkins Construction says its immediate focus is supporting the families and colleagues of those involved.
More details will be released on the fatalities and injuries once a police investigation is complete.
The very slow moving front responsible for the wild weather, has now cleared Auckland.
The moment the tornado hit
A west Auckland resident captured the moment the tornado hit on camera.
The footage was shot from the second storey of a building and shows a window being lashed by strong winds and rain.
Homes left uninhabitable
Around 150 homes have been displaced at Whenuapai with many deemed uninhabitable. A large number are also without power.
At least 250 affected residents have been taken to Whenuapai Airbase, where they will be looked after by Auckland Council welfare staff. Civil Defence is also providing support.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown said he is heading out to Whenuapai to “keep a close watch and to be with the citizens” and to “ensure whatever can be done is being done”.
‘I’ve never seen weather like that before’
Shaken construction worker Sam Nuthall told Radio New Zealand he and his workmates saw big dark clouds and thought it would just be a rainstorm, but were then forced to shelter between a block wall and a truck.
“You couldn’t see it coming, there was debris flying everywhere, steel getting thrown around,” he said.
“I’ve never been in weather like that before.”
Mr Nuthall said there were between 50 and 80 people on the site and a few “pretty bad” injuries.
The Fire Service and police have been inundated with calls as trees fell and roofs were ripped off around a dozen houses.
Witnesses say debris is spread across at least two blocks.
3 News reporter Tom McRae is on the scene and says damaged houses don’t look like they will be inhabitable any time soon.
“Window panes have been completely blown out, roofs ripped off,” he says.
“It will take some time to clean up.”
‘Five minutes of utter devastation’
Residents appeared almost dumbstruck by what had happened and had begun cleaning up.
Witness Suzanne McFadden described the experience as “five minutes of utter devastation”.
“Obviously it got very muggy and very still, but suddenly the sky went very black – almost like at night,” she says.
“A huge wind came across the river from Coatesville, it came up the street and ripped century-old pine trees out of the ground and it has taken roofs off houses, it has crushed cars and boats.”
Ms McFadden says the main street “looks like a bomb’s gone off”.
“We’re all very aware that it could turn around and another one could strike so we’ve just told people to stay in doors and stay in the middle of their houses and keep their windows and doors closed.”
A truck driver en route to Hobsonville High School said the weather was “crazy” and described the cab rocking from side to side as he drove.
Moments of chaos
Resident Jordan Smith was out in the street when the storm hit and describes it as “chaotic”.
“There was no rain and then all of a sudden it was pouring with rain and I looked out the window and then it was just crazy,” she says.
“There were trees everywhere, flying into houses, and there were windows breaking and the doors were all slamming.”
Ms Smith, who is nine months pregnant and due to give birth any day, was home by herself at the time and says she hid in the wardrobe.
Primary schools weather the storm
Two local schools, Hobsonville and Matipo Primary say they have weathered the storm and suffered no damage.
However, parents are asked to come and collect their children while severe weather warnings remain in place.
A spokeswoman for Hobsonville Primary said parents are not to walk home or get on a bus unattended.
Through a statement on their website, Matipo Primary said it is following advice from the Ministry of Education and holding students in class until parents can collect them.
Road closures and risk of surface flooding
Upper Harbour Highway from Greenhithe Rd to Brigham Creek Rd has been closed and motorists are advised to be mindful of flash flooding.
The NZ Transport Agency says the road will remain closed until it has assurances it is safe to be reopened.
Inspector Gavin MacDonald of Auckland City Police said motorists should be patient and expect journeys to take a little longer than usual.
“But, if you don’t have to drive anywhere, don’t.”
“The risk of flash floods on the network means that people need to drive with extreme care, use their headlights and watch their following distances,” says Steve Mutton, NZTA’s acting State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland.
“People should consider whether their travel is necessary until conditions improve. If they are driving, we ask them to do so with patience – conditions are extreme, unpredictable, and difficult.”
Trains are operating as normal and ferry services are continuing, but the 5.30pm service to West Harbour will be replaced by a bus.
Bus services are disrupted to Herald Island route 093 and Hobsonville Point routes 092 and 093. Route 130 is suspended. Auckland Transport warns some other bus services may be delayed.
Planes stranded at Auckland Airport
A source told 3 News a number of planes are stranded on the tarmac at Auckland International Airport.
Aviation regulations mean airplanes can not refuel during a thunderstorm. All arrivals gates at the airport are currently full with planes unable to refuel, while other aircraft still laden with passengers sit on the layover, unable to disembark.
Auckland Airport has confirmed some disruption to air travel, including a number of cancelled flights to and from Whangarei and New Plymouth.
Vector confirms power outages
Vector spokeswoman Sandy Hodge has confirmed three outages in west Auckland as a result of the storm. However, she was unable to say how many households were affected at this stage.
Crews are en route to repair the outages, but face some obstacles in getting there in the current weather.
Locals who come across fallen power lines are asked to treat them as if they were live and be very careful.
Electricity is off in numerous parts of the city including Henderson, Greenhithe, Hobsonville, Riverhead, Meadowbank and St Johns.
More wild weather to come
Heavy downpours and thunder are expected over the west and south of the city early this afternoon.
Motorists in these areas are advised to prepare for a sudden loss of visibility in localised heavy downpours, while a moderate risk of surface flooding and flash flooding is predicted.
Outdoor pools closed
Auckland Council has announced the closure of the following outdoor pools for the rest of the day:
- Pt Erin Baths
- Parnell Baths
- Onehunga War Memorial Pool
- Grey Lynn
- Cameron Pool, Mt Roskill
- Lagoon Leisure and Fitness, Panmure
The council says it has based this decision on the increasingly bad weather, surface flooding, lightening and public safety.
It also disputed reports of damage to West Wave Aquatic Centre in Henderson, saying the centre remains open and has only experienced surface flooding.
2588 lightening strikes in NZ today
More than 2580 lightening strikes have occurred in NZ today, 2463 of those in Auckland.
New Zealand’s deadly tornadoes
- In May 2011, two people were killed when a tornado destroyed the roof of the Albany Megacentre in North Shore City. Winds of up to 200km/h wrecked houses and cars and also injured dozens of people
- In August 2004, two people were killed when their Waitara house was destroyed when a tornado swept across Taranaki
- New Zealand's worst tornado to date struck Hamilton in 1948, killing three people, injuring 80 and wrecking nearly 150 houses
However, New Zealand tornadoes are neither as common nor as destructive as those in the United States, where in 1974 more than 300 people were killed.