Tornado strikes as storm rages
Family watches in terror as trees fly through the air
Weekend storms that lashed Hawke’s Bay brought the worst flooding in decades to Porangahau, closed roads and schools throughout the region and cut power to thousands of homes.
By staff reporters
A Central Hawke’s Bay family watched in horror yesterday as a tornado ripped through their paddocks just 100m from their home and lifted century-old gum trees into the air.
Penny Nalder was just sitting down to lunch with her husband Robert and four children at Waipare station, Omakere, when she heard a huge roaring, sucking sound “like a gigantic loo flushing”.
She saw the tornado’s funnel touch down behind a row of poplar trees, 100m from the house, and suck the birds out of the trees.
When the column of dirt crossed the paddock and trees started flying, she told the children to dive under their beds.
“As we were running past the windows, we saw one of the biggest trees in the air and wondered where it was going to land. It was terrifying, frankly,” she said.
The children were struck most by what had happened to the animals in the tornado’s path, including a “pretty poorly” hawk that was battered and dumped in a dog run.
Mrs Nalder said the family was still shaken by tea time.
“We’re well aware we could have been matchsticks,” she said.
Neighbour Andrew Musson was on the road 300m away when the tornado hit, and saw mature trees ripped out of the ground and flying in circles 100m overhead.
“It was unbelievable. I lived in Oz for ten years and experienced some pretty radical storms, but this was the most powerful thing I have seen in my life,” he said.
Station manager Mark Warren spent part of the morning clearing the road with a chainsaw and tractor. The tornado had cut a swathe about 500m long and 15-20m [wide] through the farm, snapping poplars and “crunching the tops out of the trees”.
“We’re talking 120 year old gum trees being plucked out of the ground and sucked into the sky,” he said.
Meanwhile, the worst flooding to strike Porangahau in decades forced the evacuation of 30 people and left the township cut off from the outside world.
Chief fire officer John Galbraith said about eight homes had been evacuated at 4am, including the kaumatua flats. Residents were now staying with friends on higher ground.
Hundreds of lambs and ewes were dead, and in some areas not a fence was left standing.
It was the worst flooding he had seen in 30 years at Porangahau, and the older residents had told him it was 50 years since a flood of that scale.
Sole constable John Singer was hauled out of bed about 1am today, and the Porangahau River peaked about 5am.
At 9am it was “still fair thumping away” and up to 1km wide across the flats.
“There’s bales of silage floating down the river like marshmallows,” he said.
A slip on the Wimbledon Road about 3am had cut off the village, which was also isolated from the beachside settlement by flooding across the flats.
Water on the roads was up to a metre deep, and without the fire appliance and the police four-wheel drive to get through the worst-hit areas, the situation could have been a lot worse, Constable Singer said.
“Even in my four-wheel drive it was pretty hairy – I could feel it being pulled sideways by the current.”
Power and water had been cut, but the rain had stopped about 7am. By 9am the sun was out and flood waters were dropping, leaving a layer of silt and debris. He hoped the clean-up could begin later today.
The main concerns now were moving stranded stock, restoring water supplies and guarding against effluent contamination, he said.
Meanwhile in Takapau, Paul Auckram was called by his son in law at 4.45am to be told his street was flooding.
“The water was way up. I checked on the Commodore (in his garage) and it was up to the floor so I moved it down the road,” Mr Auckram said.
Mr Auckram, whose house has been flooded twice in 15 years, then set about putting masking tape around the doors.
Mr Auckram said the flood peaked early this morning coming within 2cm of entering his living room.
The deluge flowing down Sydney Street had created a stream across Takapau’s main road where the two roads intersect.
The Waipukurau Construction workshop, which lies at a low point on the corner of the two streets, is about 30cm beneath water level.
Central Hawke’s Bay emergency management officer Bruce Kitto said people in the district were being urged to stay home unless travel was urgent.
Most schools were closed and people had also been evacuated from homes in Waipawa.
Milk-train wagons derailed at Oringi
A milk train was derailed today after rain washed out a section of railway line near Dannevirke as the lower North island continued to be lashed by a storm.
The main Palmerston North-Napier rail line was blocked at Oringi, about 5km south of Dannevirke, after the fully-laden milk wagons left the track.
Bill Rarere, the East Coast rail inspector, said a full assessment of damage could not be made until floodwaters receded and allowed Staff into the area.
Flood-closed roads were today also preventing Dannevirke’s Scanpower and Waipukurau’s Centralines from reaching fallen lines to restore power to hundreds of homes and farms from Porangahau to Weber.
The emergency began on Saturday when high winds flattened trees and brought down power lines from Te Haroto, about 70km north of Napier, to south of Dannevirke.
The storm caused widespread flooding, particularly in coastal areas south of Waipukurau.
Unsettled weather may stick around for a week
MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt predicts it will be another week or 10 days before Hawke’s Bay’s normal, settled, summer weather returns – just in time for the Mission concert.
Central and Southern Hawke’s Bay were hardest hit at the weekend with rainfall of 284mm recorded at Porangahau and up to 132mm around Waipukurau.
Further north, 75mm was recorded at Otamauri, with little damage.
North of Napier there was rain but not the strong winds and drenching downpours recorded further south. Farmers in those areas did not expect any problems.
This morning Wairarapa, Eastern Hills of Wellington, the Wanganui Hill Country, Mt Taranaki, Taihape and Hawke’s Bay south of Napier were issued a heavy rain warning. Between 8am to midday, 20-30mm rain was possible in some places but it was expected to clear this afternoon.
Sport events rained out
Storms hit the national age group selection triathlon at Westshore and forced the cancellation of beach rugby, athletics and junior cricket on Saturday.
The ocean swim section of the triathlon was cancelled because of high seas and the event was reduced to a duathlon.
The inaugural Hawke’s Bay beach fives rugby tournament was postponed because of strong winds and sand storms at Waipatiki while the wet weather forced the abandonment of the Napier Athletic Club’s annual ribbon day and junior cricket throughout the Bay.
Farmers fume about lack of warning ad they count their blessings
Central and Southern Hawke’s Bay farmers dealing with dead stock, slips, fallen trees, flooded crops, blocked roads and power cuts today are demanding to know why yesterday’s heavy rain was not forecast.
At 10.30 last night Central Hawke’s Bay farmer Hugh Ritchie was wading waist-deep water trying to get shorn lambs to safety. He counted at least 20 dead but feared there would be many more, perhaps as many as 200, when the water dropped.
“I’m disgusted at the weather forecast. There was no heavy rain warning, which would have allowed us to get the sheep into shelter,” Mr Ritchie said.
“The forecasting was abysmal.
“A southerly in February shouldn’t do this much damage, and without any warning we were not prepared.”
Mr Ritchie said crops of maize and sweetcorn around Te Aute and Otane were flooded as about 100mm of rain fell, following on from steady rain all summer. At his Otane home, 91mm of rain fell in five hours.
Poukawa farmer Derek Brownrigg recorded 106mm in the 24 hours to 7am today.
Waipukurau farmers Richard and Nicki Harding were unable to leave their home just north of the town, because trees had fallen over the driveway. “I spent Saturday on the tractor cleaning up after the wind, only to have it all happen again overnight,” Mr Harding said.
They had recorded 132mm of rain to 8am today.
Porangahau farmers Rob and Jane Hunter recorded 284mm in the 24 hours to this morning.
Mrs Hunter said water was lapping around the house but had eased by this morning.
The power had been off since the early hours, she said
Hatuma farmer Steve Wyn-Harris got up at 3am to check shorn ewes and emptied 140mm out of the rain gauge. This morning he emptied another 25mm.
Steve and Celia Wilson at Wakarara recorded 160mm. Mrs Wilson said their newly-shorn ewes had good shelter. Further north, there appeared to be little damage, with 40mm-60mm recorded around the Heretaunga Plains.
MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said yesterday’s storm was bigger than expected.
It was a combination of a moist tropical low meeting a polar blast.
“They met and mixed right over the North Island.”
Heavy rain and wind warnings were issued for Wellington and Wairarapa but not central and southern Hawke’s Bay, where falls of up to 284mm were recorded.
“We thought it would go further east. It was a badly-behaved storm,” he said.
The first heavy rain warning for Hawke’s Bay was issued at 8.30 last night – too late for farmers with newly-shorn stock or stock on low-lying paddocks to shift them safely.
Mr McDavitt said Hawke’s Bay could now expect strong westerly winds.
Photo captions –
WARNING: Firefighters urge motorists to turn around as flooding closes the road near Otane, on State Highway 2, this morning.
OMAKERE farmer Mark Warren in the roots of a 100-year-old tree which was uprooted in tornado-force winds yesterday.
KNEE-DEEP: Paul Auckram and his daughter Mahinarangi outside their flooded Takapau house.
HBTODAY PICTURE: WARREN BUCKLAND