Lightning strikes have started fires and strong winds have toppled trees, powerlines and torn roofs off houses in Christchurch and surrounding areas as a storm batters the lower part of the country tonight.
Nine fire appliances were needed at a hedge fire in the Christchurch suburb of West Melton after it spread to a shed and eight appliances were battling a burning cluster of trees that threatened nearby houses in Ashburton, said a Fire spokesperson.
In Leeston, there was a fire at the showgrounds, a cowshed caught alight in Southbridge and in a wood merchant in Barhill was also ablaze.
St John reported no injuries from the events that included trees falling on occupied cars and roofs being blown from houses.
The lower south Island has been battered by a fierce front that has wreaked havoc and forecasters warn it is on its way north.
MetService has issued severe weather warnings for the lower half of the country as the front moves over the South Island before moving over the lower North Island tomorrow.
Fiordland bore the brunt of the front this morning with heavy rain and a spectacular thunderstorm which heralded the arrival of the bad weather.
Cromwell resident Jade McLellan said what she thought was a tornado picked up her father’s 9-metre boat off a trailer and flung the two-tonne vessel over the neighbour’s fence about 11am.
“We had a big gust of wind come through which picked up the neighbour’s trampoline and spun that above fence level. Then we saw the boat flip up off its trailer and into the next door neighbour’s yard. Now it’s quite demolished,” she said.
Neighbours had seen what they thought was the funnel shape of a tornado approaching their house about 11am.
“The wind really picked up and was throwing itself on the house and mum was yelling at everyone to get into the lounge. As I came through the hallway I looked through the sliding door and saw the boat flipping. It’s quite crazy,” Ms McLellan said.
Fire Service southern region operations manager Chris Munro said the South Island’s firefighters had been very busy with weather-related calls today.
“We’ve got multiple calls at the moment: trees down, powerlines down, grass fires caused by the powerlines, trees down across the road.”
Firefighters were also called when a house in Fox Glacier township caught fire after being struck by lightning around midday.
It was out by the time crews arrived, Mr Munro said.
The majority of calls were from Otago and Canterbury but there were also some small jobs on the West Coast due to heavy rain.
Dunedin police said motorists travelling between Oamaru and Dunedin should take extreme care as severe winds battered Otago’s east coast.
They were attending two traffic incidents on State Highway 1, including a truck which overturned due to heavy winds.
The driver received minor injuries.
Air New Zealand said a number of flights to and from Queensland and Dunedin had been diverted or cancelled.
Affected passengers were being accommodated on other air services or by road, the airline said.
– Image / Fernando Tipacti