9 Sep 2016

Icy blast tumbles containers, cuts power

5:31 pm on 9 September 2016

Dozens of shipping containers have been toppled in Wellington, and Cook Strait ferry crossings have been cancelled for a second day, as a late winter blast continues to bite.

Containers have toppled over in strong winds in Centreport, on Wellington harbour.

Strong winds in Wellington have toppled between 30 and 50 empty shipping containers Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

New Zealand has been hit by rain, snow and huge wind gusts in the past two days, and while conditions are set to improve today, cold southerlies will continue to blow across the country.

The harbour yard at Wellington's port remains shut after 30 to 50 containers toppled in the strong winds earlier today.

The yard is closed for health and safety reasons.

A spokesperson for Centreport said they should be righted by this weekend.

All severe weather warnings have now been lifted, but a watch remains in place from this evening until tomorrow morning for Hawke's Bay and the Gisborne region, where gale-force winds were expected overnight.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said the Desert Road and Lewis Pass highways were now safe to travel on after being closed earlier due to snow, but drivers were still urged to take care.

Interislander and Bluebridge ferries were not running today because of the rough conditions in Cook Strait, but normal service was expected to resume tomorrow morning.

Interislander operations manager Peter Matthews said the ferries had been off the water for more than two days, which showed how serious the weather had been.

"Our last crossing came in on Wednesday night, so pretty much a whole day yesterday, Wednesday night and part of today, so it's reasonably unprecedented to have the ships out for this long."

A decision was still to be made on whether freight ships would sail later this afternoon.

Wellington Electricity said there were no major outages in the city, but about 14 households had reported they had lost power.

The company said those houses should have their power restored by the end of the day.

In Canterbury, lines company Orion said power had been restored to nearly all its customers after widespread cuts yesterday.

Central North Island residents woke up to snow-covered cars this morning. Rangitaiki Tavern co-owner Marion Klaus said it was a bitterly cold night but he was relieved the power remained on.

The wet weather has been welcomed in North Canterbury, with a local farmer saying while it was likely the wild weather in the drought stricken area had caused stock losses, the rain was desperately needed.

Mixed blessing for North Canterbury farmers

The official drought period for the South Island's east coast was extended to two years in June, making it the longest the country has ever seen.

North Canterbury livestock farmer Richard Murchison said the weather brought mixed blessings.

"For those still lambing, the rain will be very welcome, in that they will have feed for those lambs that survive. There will be some stock losses, but the rain will be welcome than anything else."

He said much more rain was still needed in order for properties and stock to recover.

MetService meteorologist John Crouch said things should calm down in the south in the coming hours - but gale-force winds could return in parts of Gisborne and Hawke's Bay.

"We should see a bit of a clearance spreading up into Canterbury later in the day, but it will still stay pretty cold and showery around the eastern North Island. There have been strong winds around the eastern parts of the North Island and we could be looking at southerly gales developing and winds rising back up to gale force around northern Hawke's Bay and coastal parts of Gisborne."

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The view from the road to Coronet Peak near Queenstown yesterday Photo: Supplied / Celia Horner