26 Jun 2020

'We saw some birds get sucked into it': Tornado touches down in Mangawhai

6:47 pm on 26 June 2020

Mangawhai residents have witnessed birds and roofs being pulled into the vortex as a tornado touched down at the coastal town north of Auckland.

The freak weather event is believed to have occurred not long after 4pm, and lasted only a few minutes.

Resident Pamela Gervai told Checkpoint it was "like a big twister" that touched down several times and then dissipated.

"Along with that, we had a lot of wild wind, thunder, lightning flashes and just a dramatic downpour of rain."

She did not hear it coming before she spotted it outside her window. "It just stayed up on the hill."

"It was dramatic weather."

She said she would have been frightened if it got any bigger.

It was still windy, stormy and heavily overcast, Gervai said. "It's just a regular stormy day now."

Sam Garratt, who lives in nearby Wellsford, said he was packing up at work when he saw the twister.

"My boss called us over and said 'check this out' and I just pulled out my phone to video it and this big white cloud started funnelling towards the ground ... in a few seconds, there was a tornado sitting in front of us," he told Checkpoint.

"It got real dark and pretty scary to be honest. Then it started twisting and it was just unbelievable to witness.

"It took off beyond the hill, we saw some roofs get pulled up ... stuff was going flying, we thought we saw some birds get sucked into it as well. It was pretty frightening."

He said he was about 2km away from the almost 100-metre-high twister.

"It was quite slow to begin with but when it started moving towards the hill it took off pretty quick. It covered a lot of ground fast and then dissipated in the area."

Garratt said he was concerned for people's safety.

"Some people's farmland got destroyed and some signs got ripped out of the ground ... pretty intense stuff."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) told Newshub they are in attendance at a property on Cove Rd, where a roof has lifted on a residential dwelling.

Local hunter Tito says there was "heaps of iron and debris flying around", while building project The Fisherman's Shed reported seeing "street signs" in the air.

Local builder Rob told Magic Talk he saw the tornado "touch down" on a couple of places - but said luckily it was "pretty far away". However he said he saw a house with a partially removed roof on his drive home.

"It was nothing like the things you see in the [United] States, but it had a fair bit of power. It was enough to lift a few bits of iron," he said.

"Pretty exciting, mate. Bit of action, bit of [crazy] weather to finish the day off."

Mangawhai Landscape Supplies staffer Alison Bain told Newshub the winds were so strong it "sounded like a train coming through the yard".

"We estimated that it was 1km to 2km away, possibly further. [It lasted] probably one to two minutes, and then it just disappeared," she said.

"We heard sirens, but we're hoping it was mainly empty farmland up the back, and nobody was hurt."

Retired resident Lorna Cuddy said she was just heading out to join her husband at Mangawhai Golf Club when she was told by her husband that a tornado had hit.

She says the weather in Mangawhai is normally "very settled, so this is unusual".

"We kind of get cyclones every now and then, but normally we're quite sheltered because we're tucked in between the Dome Valley and the Brynderwyns," she said.

- with additional reporting by Newshub