11 Apr 2023

Weather: Severe thunderstorm warning after tornadoes hit Kāpiti, Tasman

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 11 April 2023

Broken trees are being felled, homes repaired and sections cleared of debris after a tornado tore across the Tasman District. 

It left a trail of destruction, 200 metres wide and almost four kilometres long - from Upper Moutere, through Mahana towards Appleby late on Easter Monday.

Around 50 properties were affected, with damage to at least 22 homes - including smashed windows, mangled roofs and missing belongings. 

On Tuesday, the sound of chainsaws and mulchers could be heard across the district as residents and contractors began the clean-up.

Westdale Road resident Tracy Norton said there was no warning before the tornado struck and she did not have time to think about taking cover, until water started to come in through their closed windows. 

Tornado damage on Westdale Road, Tasman. The roof of a large shed has been blown off.

Tornado damage on Westdale Road in Tasman, where the roof of a large shed was blown off. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

"It was a horrendous noise, worse than anything we have ever heard, and you couldn't really see anything because the rain was just sideways and everything was flying everywhere."

She said in the aftermath it looked like someone had taken a chainsaw to every tree in the street - big trees had been uprooted, stripped by the wind or had snapped in half.

"We're really lucky our house is ok, just little bits of damage to our guttering and flashings, those sorts of things."

Across the road, James Petersen said as the weather set in on Monday, it was clear they had been hit by a tornado. 

"It was surreal, I just started watching leaves, branches and rain flying at us horizontally and I started thinking to myself - this isn't normal, this is something bigger - so I shouted out to the family and as soon as I'd done that, everything went crazy, branches, trees, it was just a whirlwind."

A glasshouse and pergola were destroyed and trees uprooted at James Petersen's property in Westdale Road, but his house was thankfully undamaged.

A glasshouse and pergola were destroyed and trees uprooted at James Petersen's property in Westdale Road. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

The family hunkered down in the garage and Petersen said the worst of it was over in less than a minute - followed by a heavy deluge of rain. 

"My first thought after the family was the sheep in the paddock so I ran out, couldn't find them so I went up the road assuming they had been sucked up into space or something but managed to find them and rounded them up into a temporary pen."

He said it was hard to believe what he had witnessed; trees were covering a stretch of Westdale Road more than 300 metres long.

"There were bits of the glasshouse and broken glass everywhere, I had to pull down our pergola that had blown into a tree and probably one of the most surprising things was we lost an oak tree, it had snapped at the trunk and looking around for it, we found it about 120 metres away."

Petersen said he felt humbled at how neighbours showed up in force almost straight away, chainsaws in hand, to help with the clean-up. 

A glasshouse and pergola were destroyed and trees uprooted at James Petersen's property in Westdale Road, but his house was thankfully undamaged.

James Petersen said an oak tree on his property was snapped at the trunk and blown 120 metres. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

The tornado also affected Thawley's Orchard in Mahana - ripping out apple trees and destroying the fruit on others. 

Owner Leigh Thawley said they were in the middle of harvest and while the bulk of the apples had been picked, there were six hectares still to be harvested when the tornado hit - wiping out between three and four hectares.

"It's taken out trees and rows through the whole block ... we've probably lost 2000-3000 cartons off those trees."

Orchard staff were finding roofing iron and other debris scattered through the orchard on Tuesday and a full assessment of the tornado damage would be done later in the week. 

The destroyed trees would need to be pulled out and Thawley said he was not sure if they would be replanted. The tornado had come on the back of several tough years; the last season had been the hardest in the orchard's 109-year history. 

The worst-affected homes are in Upper Moutere's Petra Way, where at least half a dozen had their roofs torn off.

Tasman District Council group recovery manager Richard Kirby said the tornado was thought to have originated near Gardner Valley and had travelled for three and a half kilometres towards the Appleby Hills.

Damage to Kenny and Maree Cripps' house in Petra Way, Tasman.

Tornado damage to a house on Petra Way in Upper Moutere. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

He said building assessors were now making their way through the damaged properties to check they were safe to inhabit. 

"They're still doing the assessments, but I'm aware of one [red sticker] at this stage and there may be another couple, looking at the houses."

Several properties in Upper Moutere had been disconnected from mains power until the structures had been checked to ensure they were safe.

Fire and Emergency NZ Nelson Marlborough assistant commander Paul Manson said while no injuries had been reported, he was aware there had been some close calls with roofing iron and debris floating around. 

"The damage was quite significant and we're extremely lucky that no one was hurt as a result of this incident."

Manson said ensuring people's welfare was the main priority following the tornado. 

"At the moment, we're making sure that we've got a multi-agency group going around, knocking on the doors of each affected group of people and they are passing on details of support mechanisms for their ongoing welfare."