23 Apr 2014

Storm snapped off trees, power poles

8:17 pm on 23 April 2014

Local authorities, utility companies, householders and businesses in the South Island are battling to clear up the damage from last week's intense winds.

Westland District Council said hundreds of concrete power poles simply snapped off in sequence and native forest was devastated when the storm hit from Thursday.

Westland district mayor Mike Havill said south Westland, Westport and Greymouth took the brunt with wild winds lifting roofs, wrecking fences and sheds, and bowling over large stands of native trees.

Trees at Whataora were felled by the wind.

Trees at Whataora were felled by the wind. Photo: Shona Rathgen

Mr Havill said there was damage to property and the landscape along 400km of the West Coast. Many homes in the southern part of the region were damaged, and whole lines of concrete power poles - which usually stand up to strong southerlies - were knocked over by the easterly wind. He said the poles were snapped a metre from the base and fell like dominoes.

Power was restored to most homes in the district by Tuesday night.

The owner of the Whataroa Hotel, Patrick Dennehy, said 300-year-old totara had been ripped up by the roots, changing the face of the landscape.

"On the valley floor we've lost forests that have been here since people have been here. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of totara trees literally pulled apart, broken off half way up, stripped."

Mr Dennehy said tourists driving along the main highway came to the hotel for shelter after their campervans had their roofs torn off or were blown over altogether.

Another hotel owner says he is also facing a major clean-up. Neville Rockhouse, whose son Ben was one of 29 men to die in the Pike River mine disaster, says the Rapahoe Hotel, north of Greymouth, has been severely damaged.

Mr Rockhouse said it has been one disaster after another for his family, but he is determined to get up and go again.

A forest worker says people will be clearing the hundreds of trees blown down for months.

Butch Shaw has been working on chopping up one of the dozens of 100-year-old trees which fell down at O'Connor Resthome in Westport. He said there are also whole plantations of native and pine trees which have toppled over. Mr Shaw said wood from the resthome would be milled for timber rather than used as fire wood.

William Lomax-Sawyer on ladder and Ash Bradley from Buller Electricity restore power to one of the thousands of homes which lost power.

William Lomax-Sawyer on ladder and Ash Bradley from Buller Electricity restore power to one of the thousands of homes which lost power. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Tough time for farmers

Federated Farmers' West Coast provincial president, Katie Milne, is worried farmers will be physically and mentally exhausted by the scale of the clean-up and is encouraging them to reach out for help.

"Keep an eye out on people's emotional health because that's just as important as anything. If you're really stressed out you generally start to make bad decisions and take risks that you wouldn't if you'd got a good clear head."

A landslide blocked Graham Valley Road in Tasman District.

A landslide blocked Graham Valley Road. Photo: RNZ / Yvonne Boland

The gales brought down fences, flattened farm buildings and smashed hundreds of trees.

Westland Milk Products said production was down 5 percent in the region, with some farms still waiting for power to be reconnected.

Nearly 100 properties in south Westland have now had power restored, and the chief executive of lines company Westpower, Rob Caldwell said there were just two to be reconnected on Wednesday.

Mr Caldwell said in Blaketown and Cobden, near Greymouth, power had been restored for all but a handful of those properties where it can be restored.

Contractors were waiting for repairs to be made to the remaining properties where power can be restored, but other buildings were too badly damaged.

Buller Electricity chief executive Erik Westergaard said there was damage over the entire 180km landscape the company's lines cover. Mr Westergaard said so far he had probably spent close to $400,000 on temporary repairs, and permanent repairs will take the cost to about $600,000.

Buller district mayor Garry Howard said 1200 properties had been damaged and a boil-water notice will remain in place throughout the district - except in Reefton - for the next two weeks while a perforated water treatment plant in Westport is repaired.

Mr Howard said little could have been done to prevent the damage, but people will now be more prepared for future storms.

Slips trap Graham Valley residents

Further north, it could be at least a week before access is restored to Graham Valley Road residents in Tasman District. Eight people remain cut off after the road to the area was damaged by slips during last week's storm.

Tasman District mayor Richard Kempthorne said the residents are in good heart and have supplies, but may have to wait at least a week to be able to drive through again.

The clean-up in Golden Bay following the storm is expected to take two or three weeks as some unsafe trees will have to be removed.