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Victims' bodies removed after devastating tornado

Published: 12:46PM Thursday December 06, 2012 Source: ONE News

The bodies of two of the three workers killed when a tornado struck a west Auckland school building site have been taken away in hearses.

The twister struck a one-kilometre zone in Hobsonville at 12.30pm, hitting the construction site of a new school at Hobsonville Point with deadly force.

It appears giant concrete slabs toppled onto a work truck, crushing those inside.

Seven people were injured and have been treated at North Shore hospital. Their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

Hawkins Construction says there were "fatalities and injuries suffered by a number of subcontractors" at its Hobsonville School building site.

Executive general manager Dan Ashby said the company's immediate focus is on supporting the affected workers' families, and its staff and subcontractors on site.

The names of the deceased have not yet been released, police saying not all next of kin have been notified.

Many left homeless

Meanwhile more than 200 people have been torn from their homes in the wake of the tornado.

Civil Defence said about 150 homes are uninhabitable or without power at the Whenuapai Air Force base, and a further 70 homes in the wider area have been evacuated. Houses deemed uninhabitable have been marked with a red cross.
Auckland Council Civil Defence and the Defence Force have set up a welfare facility at the Whenuapai base where about 250 affected residents are being cared for.

A police cordon is in place at the school construction site and police said the aftermath of a series of tornadoes that swept through the area would continue to keep them busy well into the night.

About sixty five officers are in suburban Hobsonville and at Whenuapai working collectively with other emergency services and agencies, police said tonight.

There will be a high police visibility in Hobsonville and Whenuapai overnight, they said, adding that residents can be reassured that everything is being done to protect their damaged homes and property.

Power blackout

Lines company Vector said there were still approximately 1300 customers without power supply.

Crews discovered damage to the network in a localised area around Herald Island. Waimarie and Totara Roads have suffered damage with eight poles and three transformers needing to be replaced, the company said.

Customers fed from this section of network will be affected by "an extended outage" and due to the nature of the damage, alternative generation of supply is not an option, Vector said.

Customers in the tornado affected area who do not have power tonight are unlikely to be restored before morning, the company said.

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The NZ Transport Agency re-opened State Highway 18, the Hobsonville Motorway, after it was closed for about two and a half hours.

Storms brought down light poles, disabled motorway cameras, left sections of the motorway littered with debris and caused flash flooding on roads across greater Auckland.

Cars tossed, debris airborne

Winds of well over 100 kilometres an hour tossed cars into powerlines and turned roads into warzones.

"Rubbish bins are flying at us and we were just holding hands and praying," a woman in a car with young children told ONE News.

"And the car started to tilt and started to lift and the wind was going nuts around us. Trees were flying at us."

In a matter of moments roofs were lifted and trees came down.    

One man said: "I lost my garage and trampoline and a few other bits and pieces. And just checking out the neighbourhood now."

Flights cancelled, delayed

Flights in and out of Auckland airport have been cancelled or delayed.

Auckland Airport said this evening all scheduled domestic and international flights were still experiencing delays due to "severe storm safety protocols" being in place.

A number of arriving flights were diverted to other airports and agencies were "working to establish a priority order" for when flights resume, an airport spokesman said.

Air New Zealand said it had cancelled 15 domestic services that were scheduled to depart Auckland and eight international departures scheduled through to the early evening have been rescheduled.

The Fire Service was inundated with calls and said there appears to be "significant building damage" sustained from the storm.

'Came out of nowhere''s Renee Girven was in the area at the time and said the event lasted a couple of minutes.

"The brunt of the storm lasted about 30 seconds and came out of nowhere," she said.

Another resident in the area said it was the "scariest thing she's ever been through".

Residents said people were screaming and in tears when the tornado struck.
One man, who was outside on Wallingford Way when it hit, said he saw cars lifted off the ground.
A woman visiting her friend on Clark Road said the garage on the property "disintegrated". She said she feared for the lives of their horses as tin was sent flying into the paddock.
Girven said the community response was fantastic.

"Construction workers and neighbours rushed to houses and checked that everyone was ok straight after it hit."

Air Force helps, police door knock
The Air Force cleaned up debris while police checked residents were safe.

Air Force Corporal Marc Oliver said he felt the wind and "then all of sudden debris was flying everywhere".

"A friend of mine was knocked in the head by a garage door and fell to the floor hard as she was trying to get to her husband who was outside getting something from his car."
Oliver said it was a "sobering experience".
On the ONE News Facebook page, Jordan Healey said that his aunt's house had been destroyed by the tornado. "My aunts house is gone, roof, windows, only one room was untouched," he said.

One woman, Ellen Strickland, tweeted: "It has been an absolute symphony of sirens coming through Pt Chev/NW motorway".

The West Wave swimming complex in Henderson reported that several panels were damaged following the storm, and water flooded into the building.

'More bad weather'

ONE News weather expert Jim Hickey said the sub-tropical, humid conditions that have plagued Auckland for the last three days came to a head today, when a cold front moved in from the Tasman. This clashed with the sub-tropical system and triggered the tornado.

The thundercells have headed out over Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Wairoa and are dissipating, Hickey said this evening.

However, Auckland Civil Defence said more bad weather is predicted from midnight, with showers, which may become heavy, and winds reaching 100km/h.

The highest gust of wind recorded this afternoon was 151 km/h at Snapper Rock, Albany.

Western suburbs including New Lynn, Avondale and around the foothills of the Waitakere's experienced rainfall rates of around 21mm within 10 minutes this afternoon.

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