A fierce front that wreaked havoc in the South Island with strong winds, thunderstorms and heavy rain has the North Island in its sights.
The strong wind, which reached record speeds in some places, flipped a boat and upturned a truck on its way through the south.
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About 28,000 houses and businesses were without power last night, Orion chief executive officer Rob Jamieson said.
“We’re down now to around about 19,000 and we’ve got dozens of contractor staff out there and their first job really is to assess the situation, get context and then we start the repair process.
“We’ve got a lot of work today and mainly it’s trees and lines, trees also cause other problems [as] some roads are blocked by trees.
“It’s nowhere near as windy as last night but there’s a bit of wind around and a bit more forecast before it’s all over.”
It was hard to judge when all the power would be back on, Mr Jamieson said.
“We don’t really have an estimate at this point. We’re still out there and assessing the context, so it would be wrong to give an expectation right now.”
While the damage affected all of Christchurch, it was particularly bad in rural areas such as the Selwyn district to the west of the city, Mr Jamieson said.
“Near the airport there were a number of trees which came down in Johns Rd. The common factor is trees.”
Mr Jamieson cautioned anyone who saw downed power lines to always treat them as live.
The front reached Wellington yesterday afternoon, with wind gusts reaching 120km/h.
MetService meteorologist John Law said the front would reach Auckland today with strengthening northerly winds and isolated showers.
“Overnight Wednesday into Thursday we’ll see a cold front run over and it will be wet. There will be some spells of rain, some heavy, and perhaps the odd thundery burst and a fairly brisk northerly wind.
“It will be a fairly blustery old time but once we get through to Friday and the weekend it will ease off.”
The weather would not be as severe as it had been at the bottom of the South Island, Mr Law said.
HUNDREDS OF EXTRA 111 CALLS:
Police southern communications Inspector Alan Weston said hundreds of extra 111 calls were received as a result of last night’s storm, due to blown over trees and downed power lines.
“People just have to drive to the conditions and be aware that there is debris on the roads. They have to also be aware of the powerlines and telephone lines that could be down in different areas.”
FIRE SERVICE ATTENDS 1000 CALLOUTS:
Southern fire communications shift manager Brent Dunn said the fire service attended more than 1000 callouts last night.
“The majority of the callouts have been fires, and they’ve been caused by power lines being knocked down, lightning strikes and previous controlled burns which have just been whipped up by the winds.
“We’ve had multiple large vegetation fires. Since 6pm last night we’ve had over 1000 emergency calls … it’s been a large-scale night really.”
A large vegetation fire near Amberley was still burning this morning, Mr Dunn said.
“It’s very big, we’re just re-assessing that this morning, now that it’s light.”
Helicopters were due to fly this morning to assist with controlling the fire, but have been placed on standby due to the threat of lightning strikes, Mr Dunn said.
“Now that it’s starting to get light we’re starting to get a lot of calls from people waking up and finding damage.”
Callouts had ranged from everything from roofs being blown off, corrugated iron being blown away, to trampolines being blown through conservatories, he said.
“It’s certainly up there with one of the biggest [nights] we’ve had in some time.
“To take that many calls, that many emergencies, in that period, [the] fire service was really stretched.
“We’re managing and we’ll just keep going today,” Mr Dunn said.
Police said emergency services have received several hundred weather related calls overnight after strong winds were experienced in the Christchurch, Selwyn and North Canterbury areas.
Most calls related to trees and power lines down and debris across roads.
An ambulance southern communications spokeswoman said no callouts were received last night for storm-related injuries.
WIND BREAKS RECORD ON MT HUTT:
On Mt Hutt, staff reported winds reaching a record 251km/h.
“It’s crazy,” Mt Hutt Ski Area general manager operations James Urquhart said yesterday.
The fastest wind speed previously recorded on the mountain was 238km/h in January.
Cromwell resident Jade McLellan described how a huge gust of wind, which she thought was a tornado, picked up her father’s 9m, two-tonne boat and flung it over the fence.
“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.”
RISING WATER LEVELS PROMPT WARNINGS:
The MetService has predicted 250-300 millimetres of rain will have fallen near the main divide by 5pm this evening.
Environment Canterbury has warned that such a large amount of rain and would be likely to result in significant flood flows into the Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui and Waiau Rivers.
Anyone near the rivers should be aware of likely flood conditions throughout today.
Fishers and recreationalists have been asked to be very wary of rising water levels.
Milford Sound got about 20mm of rain in an hour yesterday morning.
DAIRY FARMERS HIT BY POWER OUTAGES:
Ashburton dairy farmer Rob Withers said he was one of those without power and he doubted it would be reconnected “anytime soon”.
“That means no milking – we’re desperately trying to find a generator now to go into our shed,” he told Radio New Zealand.
Mr Wither had not been able to milk his stock last night either, he said.
“(The cows were) mooing and bellowing and carrying on – they’re unhappy.”
The winds had damaged many of his trees, he said.
“We witnessed about a five hectare block of plantation destroyed in about five minutes – 90 per cent of it gone.
“(It was) just like dominoes.”
The Ashburton-born farmer had never seen a worse storm hit the area.
“I’ve never seen the destruction as bad.”
Motorists travelling between Canterbury and Otago were cautioned.
Oamaru woman Lyn Warrington was with her daughter on Coast Rd when a gum tree crashed behind their car. “We’re in shock … It was halfway across the road,” Ms Warrington said.
Severe gusts on Dunedin’s northern motorway and in North Otago caused at least two trucks to overturn.
At Totara Estate, winds picked up and dumped a truck and trailer unit.
Oamaru Acting Sergeant Ewen Graham said the wind picked up the trailer first and then the truck, and threw them off the road.
The truck landed on the west side of the road, upright, while the trailer was tipped on its side.
The driver escaped uninjured.
“He was just shaken and got a hell of a fright,” Mr Graham said.
A witness told Waikouaiti Constable Jon-Paul Tremain a truck was hit by a severe gust just south of Waitati, near Dunedin, and “lifted the passenger side of the cab up … the wind was so strong it basically had taken the truck and thrown it across the road”.
The following schools are closed after last night’s storm due to damage and power outages:
• Burnham School
• Cheviot area school
• Clearview Primary School
• Darfield High School
• Darfield Primary School
• Ellesmere College
• Fernside School
• Kaiapoi North School
• Ohoka School
• Rangiora High School
• Rolleston School
– Additional reporting by Newstalk ZB, Otago Daily Times