19 Apr 2014

Greymouth takes stock after storm

5:34 pm on 19 April 2014

The extent of the damage done to Greymouth by Thursday's big storm is becoming clearer

The remnants of Cylone Ita hit South Island farmers hard.

The remnants of Cylone Ita hit South Island farmers hard. Photo: METSERVICE

If you witnessed the storm and its aftermath and would like to share pictures or video with us, please email it to: iwitness@radionz.co.nz

Grey District mayor, Tony Kokshoorn, says the town's municipal band building was destroyed by the high winds, which also tore the roof off a shop and flattened a Greymouth airport hangar.

A member of the Greymouth Aero Club, Merv Ashby, says one hangar was completely flattened, four microlights inside it were torn to pieces and three fixed-wing planes were damaged.

Mr Ashby says one man managed to save his aircraft by tying it to his car.

Mr Kokshoorn says the Lions Club has donated $10,000 to help the 60 or so families whose houses were badly damaged, with some losing their roofs.

Greymouth's chief fire officer, Lee Swinburn, says many buildings will have to be replaced.

"There is going to have to be a lot of work done, obviously a lot of buildings will have to come down."

Mr Swinburn says the wind travelled down the valley in a damaging funnel-like effect similar to June 2012 when the worst-hit areas, Greymouth Blaketown and Cobden, also suffered storm damage.

Meanwhile, it's emerged that sharemilkers in Westland took generators from farm to farm to get cows milked during the storm.

The general manager of operations at Westland Milk Products Bernard May, says that with road access cut off and power out in many places, a tremendous community spirit helped to greatly reduce the impact on some farms.

Mr May says a few farmers were forced to dump milk but most milk was collected.

Welcome relief for some

Federated Farmers says the storm that has passed over the country may have broken the drought affecting some areas of the North Island.

The federation's adverse events spokesperson, Katie Milne, says some areas had enough rain for a turnaround in fortunes, but others did not get enough to recover from the drought before winter.

She says the parts that did get rain will still need more in the next 10 days.

Ms Milne says it's best if rain comes gently over a day or two, so the soil can gradually absorb the water.

South Island's main roads open

All major roads in the South Island are open, but motorists are advised to drive with caution. Slips are causing delays in many places.

The Transport Agency says the Takaka Hill Road in Tasman is down to one lane as road crews clear a slip.

State Highway 1 between Blenheim and Kaikoura is also down to one lane with several slips around Seddon and Ward.

On the West Coast, all roads are now open.

Traffic is being let through intermittently at the Karangarua Bridge on State Highway 6 between Fox Glacier and Haast which is being repaired after wind damage on Thursday.

Little River on Banks Peninsula.

Little River on Banks Peninsula. Photo: Neil Brown

But on Banks Peninsula, State Highway 75 from Little River to Akaroa is still closed by slips.

Kaikoura district mayor Winston Gray said phone communications are coming back on after heavy rain damaged underground fibre optic cables.

Landlines and mobile communications have been out across the district since Friday, making it difficult to establish the impact of the storm.

In the North Island, torrential rain in Whakatane flooded several properties including the fire station.

The rain began about 6pm and the Whakatane River burst its banks at high tide, at about 9pm.

The Fire Service sent crews to about 50 call-outs on Friday night, including to houses along Alexander Avenue that were flooded when a stream burst its banks.

Deputy fire officer Malcolm Rowson said there was also severe flooding in Ohope and an extra fire engine was sent from Whakatane to help.

He said lightning and wind uprooted several trees, but the roads were now clear.

Meanwhile, MetService is warning Bay of Plenty and Rotorua residents to be aware of localised thunderstorms that could lead to flash floods and slips.

Driving conditions will be hazardous with surface flooding and poor visibility.

No power

Further north, hundreds of people spent the night without power.

Powerco, which operates across the North Island, says about 300 customers still don't have power on Saturday morning, but it hopes to restore supply to everyone by the end of the day.

Operations manager Phil Marsh said more than 200 personnel are working on repairs.

Top Energy in the Far North said late on Friday that electricity was back on for all but 50 of the 6000 customers whose power was out.

Farm damage compared to Bola

Storm damage to South Island farms over the past two days is being compared to that from Cyclone Bola in March 1988.

Bola killed three people and cost about $200 million when it hit the east coast of the North Island.

Jeanette Walker, a former farmer and Labour Party candidate for Kaikoura, said she has seen similarly severe damage to farms around Ward and Clarence, where entire hillsides have collapsed and fencelines have been destroyed.

''Whole hillsides have comes down,'' she said.

Ms Walker said farmers will need long-term Government assistance to recover.