18 Sep 2010

Thousands without power after storm downs lines

10:05 pm on 18 September 2010

Stormy weather in the North Island has closed roads and brought down power lines, cutting electricity supply to thousands of people.

The electricity company PowerCo says more than 14,000 customers in Whanganui, Waihi, Te Puke, Tauranga, Kimbolton, Thames and the Hauraki Plains are still without power after Friday night's storm.

It says it's likely that about 10,000 customers will remain without power overnight.

A severe weather watch is in place for Mt Taranaki and the Tararua Range, Whanganui, Taihape and Horowhenua and the Kapiti Coast.

A fast-moving front was expected to cross central New Zealand overnight, preceded by brief heavy rain and strong northwesterlies.

MetService forecast a burst of heavy rain overnight for Mt Taranaki and the Tararua Range, while north-west gales in exposed parts of Whanganui, Manawatu, Taihape, Horowhenua and Kapiti were expected to ease.

Showers are forecast for western parts of the South Island on Sunday, with heavy showers over the North Island easing later in the day.

Emergency centre stood down

The Manawatu Whanganui Regional Council activated its Emergency Operations Centre when rain in the region raised river levels but stood it down in the evening, saying rivers were starting to drop.

State Highway 3 south of Whanganui at Ratana, closed for several hours by a slip, reopened with a 30 km/h speed limit at the site. Motorists are urged to drive with extreme caution.

Floodgates on the Makino Stream were closed earlier on Saturday to protect the town of Feilding from flooding.

Supply being restored to Piha

In Auckland, lines company Vector says about 2000 were still without power on Saturday, about half of whom were in Piha, west of the city.

Vector hoped to have supply restored by means of a generator to 1000 customers in Piha by 5pm.

It says about 30,000 customers around Auckland lost power at some stage during the storm, caused by trees falling on lines and a big lightning strike at about 8.30pm.

Warning about downed lines

Powerco network coordination manager Dean Stevenson is urging people who see lines on the ground or other damage to stay well away, and inform emergency services.

Powerco has also had calls from dairy farmers seeking urgent restoration of their power supply in order to milk cows.

Federated Farmers says cows can develop mastitis if not milked regularly and should be milked at least once every 24 hours.

Hundreds of calls to fire service

The Fire Service's northern communications centre, which manages the top half of the North Island, says it attended about 300 callouts between 6pm and midnight, mainly around Auckland.

Overnight shift manager Scott Osmond says the storm, which tailed off at about midnight, was the biggest in Auckland since mid-2008. "Mainly trees down on roads, power lines down ... a little bit of property damage."

The Coastguard says hurricane-force winds of more than 140km/h were recorded at the Manukau Heads.

West-bound lanes on the north-western motorway were closed for a time because of damage to overhead signs.

Road warnings

In further storm damage, State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo was reduced to one lane after a large tree fell on it about three kilometres south of Tarawera.

Police say drivers should exercise extreme caution when trying to negotiate around the area.

Flooding closed State Highway 1 near the Marton rail overbridge and detours were put in place via Marton township.

Caution is urged on SH1 near the rail tunnel south of Mangarere Road in the Manawatu town of Mangaweka because of a slip.