Cyclone chaos

By Tui Bromley

It was a race against the clock yesterday as volunteers worked frantically to weatherproof scores of homes left exposed to the elements when the tail of Cyclone Ita flicked the West Coast two days ago.
Luckily, the heavy rain warning petered out to only a few showers, by which time acres of tarpaulins had been strapped across the gaping roofs, although more bad weather is forecast tonight.
The entire Coast was left counting the cost of the galeforce winds that pummelled the region, snapping concrete power poles like twigs, ripping roofs off buildings and flattening garages and an airport hangar on top of cars and planes.
The riverside suburbs of Blaketown and Cobden bore the brunt of the damage in the Greymouth area, while further south at Whataroa a number of homes were stripped of their roofs.
The worst of the winds skipped Hokitika, but struck at inland Kowhitirangi, Hari Hari and Whataroa, and with a vengeance in Westport. Numerous large trucks and campervans were toppled on State highway 6 through South Westland.
In Greymouth, the windstorm took a far greater toll than the 2005 tornado that cut a swathe through Blaketown and the central town area. This time the damage was far more widespread, leaving 39 houses uninhabitable — 26 of them in Cobden and 12 in Blaketown — and flattening the Blaketown Hall and a new hangar at the aerodrome as easterly winds howled through the Cobden Gorge. Suburbs further away from the Grey River and the gorge were largely unscathed.
The peak gust recorded at Rapahoe was 148kph at 4.30pm on Thursday, and weather recorder Peter Ewen estimates 160-170kph in Cobden and Blaketown.
A concrete power pole that snapped in half in Blake Street bore testament to the strength of the wind that picked up portacoms from the wharf and tossed them, like matchbox toys into the nearby lagoon, one landing on a fishing boat.
Across the river in Cobden, just about every street had at least one house that had lost part or all of its roof.
In the greater Greymouth area 60 properties lost their roofs, including the Rapahoe Hotel and the historic Miners’ Hall at Runanga.
Most of the victims of the storm found alternative accommodation with family and friends, while 27 people accepted the offer of the welfare centres set up at the Baptist Church, in Greymouth, and Cobden School.
Groups of exhausted volunteer firefighters were going from house to house making them watertight before moving on to the next property on the list, and community volunteers helped the owners of the large Greymouth used goods store, R and N Traders, move all its stock to secure premises after the entire roof ripped off.
While the central business district was battered and bruised, R and N Traders and Lance Topliss Auto Electricians were the only businesses required to relocate stock. Altogether, five commercial or industrial premises were rendered uninhabitable.
Ellery’s, ITM and Mitre 10 Mega opened up specially on Good Friday to provide supplies for the repair efforts, and McLeans Pit landfill was open today for free dumping of wind-blown debris.
It was a similar situation in Westport, where the whole town was without power.Buller Mayor Garry Howard said the damage was widespread, with buildings missing roofs, verandas and windows shattered in the winds that reached 127kph at their peak in that district.
Electronet chief executive Rob Caldwell said crews of linemen heading to the South Westland trouble spots — where 13 poles were downed on the Te Taho straight near Whataroa — first had to help road crews clear the highway along the way.
At 4pm yesterday Electronet said that in the northern part of the region, particularly in the rural areas, power would be restored to most by the end of the day, however households and farms would remain without power for a second night, including some areas of Rotomanu and Inchbonnie.
Mayor Tony Kokshoorn praised the community effort: “A magnificent response from the fire brigade, local volunteers and welfare services has put us in a position where we feel confident that we will house anybody who cannot return to their homes. The expected rains have not arrived yet, which is a godsend, and has given the many volunteers and the Fire Service time to put tarpaulins over the affected houses. With the great community effort to get things back on track, we’ll all be eating Easter eggs on Sunday.”