11 Sep 2013

Canterbury cleans up after fierce storm

9:53 pm on 11 September 2013

A massive clean-up operation is under way in parts of inland Canterbury after a violent storm swept through the region overnight.

Widespread damage has been caused to trees, properties and powerlines in the area west of Christchurch between Darfield and Hororata.

At its height, the storm sparked multiple fires and cut power to tens of thousands of people.

All off-duty fire service staff in Canterbury were called back to work and trucks rushed from job as fallen power lines caused fires at both residential and commercial properties.

The fire service received more than 1800 calls relating to the violent weather between 2.30pm on Tuesday and 6am on Wednesday in what officials say was the busiest night they can remember.

Cran Dalgetty and Murray Howard clear fallen trees in West Melton.

Cran Dalgetty and Murray Howard clear fallen trees in West Melton. Photo: RNZ

Fire service southern communications centre shift commander Rewai Grey says they had to stop sending crews to some reports of trees and powerlines down because no one was available.

A large forest fire was burning west of Amberley which could be seen from three kilometres away.

Three helicopters were sent to dump water on the fire on Wednesday morning and ground crews were to be brought in during the afternoon but the fire service says it is no longer the "raging monster" it was.

West Melton horse trainer Murray Howard spent the morning trying to clear trees from his road, to allow linesmen to get in to reconnect the power.

He says he got up at 1am to find items missing and a pump shed crumbled down.

"There's one of those big irrigators crumbled, the wind must have just picked it up," he says.

Thousands of planks of wood were blown around the Selwyn Sawmill in the gales. Staff member Angela Merriman says the mill is not operating because there is no power, but staff are likely to spend all day tidying up.

Power cut off

About 30,000 South Island customers remain without power, mainly in the Canterbury region.

In North Canterbury MainPower says it expects to get 2000 to 3000 customers reconnected by 4pm Wednesday afternoon - 11,500 customers are still without power.

Mainpower says the damage is widespread and it will probably take a few days to restore electricity to everyone.

Power lines were down across Canterbury.

Power lines were down across Canterbury. Photo: RNZ

MainPower engineering manager Peter Hurford says the winds are the strongest he has experienced in 38 years with the company.

Alpine Energy says there are still about 1000 properties without power in the Canterbury towns of Geraldine, Fairlie and Waimate, where the New World supermarket is closed.

It says the severity of the damage has become more apparent throughout the morning and although it hopes to restore power by the end of the day, it may take until Thursday.

Some 28,257 Orion customers were without power in the middle of the night but by Wednesday afternoon that number had fallen to 15,000.

Orion has restored power to about 50% of customers but warns that people who don't have their electricity back on now, could spend the night without it.

Significant damage reported in Waimakariri region

Waimakariri District Council is asking local residents to conserve water and avoid flushing toilets while it fixes damage caused by Tuesday night's storm in Canterbury.

Council workers and contractors have been kept busy today clearing debris off roads and opening them up to traffic again.

A spokesperson says hazardous areas have been cordoned off and the removal of dangerous branches on trees is well underway with priority going to the most used public spaces.

The Council says water supply schemes have been affected in areas like Oxford and Cust, and sewer pump stations in low-lying coastal areas like Woodend and Waikuku are flooded.

It is asking people in these areas to limit the amount of water they use to reduce the flow into the sewers.

Farmers hit hard

Ashburton farmer Rob Withers, who lost power about 3pm on Tuesday, says the weather is the worst he has ever seen.

Mr Withers says he watched the wind flatten a five hectare plantation in five minutes, as the trees fell over like dominoes.

He was trying to find a generator on Wednesday morning so he could milk his cows, as were many other farmers around the region.

Fences on farms have been destroyed and sheep and cattle are becoming mixed up.

A farmer near Mayfield, David Clark, says a number of irrigators have been destroyed and farmers will probably exhaust the supply of parts in the country to get them fixed.

He says he expects it will take two to three weeks to clean up the damage in his area.