Cyclone tail lashes Coast

Staff Reporters

Trucks and campervans were blown over, schools closed, roofs peeled off, power cut, and trampolines tossed around like toys as the West Coast suffered a swish of the tail of Cyclone Ita this morning.
Whataroa, Hari Hari, Cobden and Westport were hotspots, although few places were sheltered from the fierce and gusting easterlies.
By midday, Westport fire chief Pat O’Dea was asking for the town to be cleared because buildings were “disintegrating”.
Just north of Whataroa alone, 10 power poles were brought down and at least one truck and campervan toppled off State highway 6. The Rahu Saddle, on the Lewis Pass highway, was also closed due to trees falling across the road, trapping some trucks.
The Cobden Bridge over the Grey River was closed to all traffic just after midday due to the howling winds. The strongest gust at Rapahoe was measured at 133kph about 12.30pm.
Electricity was off to seven areas, and briefly in parts of Greymouth.
The Cobden Volunteer Fire Brigade was flat out securing loose roofing iron on houses in Ward and Bright streets. They were also called to the Cobden School about 11am after the roof of the school pool began lifting.
Ward Street resident Nikki Smith said a trampoline that was blown over to her property smashed the rear window of her car and dented it.
“The trampoline blew over the car and came to rest at the window of my son’s bedroom,” Ms Smith said.
For the Greymouth Volunteer Fire Brigade the morning started at 4.30am with a call-out to a Murray Street property to secure a garden shed that had disintegrated in the wind.
Four hours later they were at Gladstone, where a small tent had been blown into the powerlines, alongside the CYB Construction yard, causing the lines to spark and ignite dry bushes underneath.
In South Westland, a police officer heading to investigate a campervan that had blown over near Whataroa, reported that his rear windscreen was blown in.
Ken Arnold, of White Heron Sanctuary Tours in Whataroa township, said he could see three or four houses without roofs just from where he was standing.
“It’s blowing a howling easterly, you can’t even stand up in it,” Mr Arnold said.
“There’s a lot of damage, fences down, roofs off, and the bridge closed at the moment (north of the town).”
Cindy Clarke said the conditions in Whataroa were “horrible” and she was too scared to look outside.
Heather Schmetz, at the Pukeko Tearooms in Hari Hari, spoke above the noise of the wind screaming around the building.
Used to strong winds, she said it was the gusts that came from nowhere that made this one bad.
“We are without power now, it comes and goes. There are trees down. It’s normal but there are huge gusts, that’s what catches you out. I can see trees with their roots unearthed.”
Bizarrely, the day was otherwise mild and dry, and the mountains were clear, Ms Schmetz said.
Ross School principal Shane Baillie said he had closed the school as the wind picked up.
“We have portable basketball hoops with 150 to 200 litres of water (anchors) and they have been blown across the playground,” Mr Baillie said.
“There were families up the valley that have been up most of the night waiting for light to see what damage there is.”
South Westland Area School, at Hari Hari, and Whataroa School were also closed for safety reasons.
Cobden School closed at 7.50am as the gusts got stronger. A building opposite the school lost some of its roofing iron.
Cobden resident Tania Beynon watched as a trampoline blew from one property on its side and through the window of the house next door, on the corner of Kerr Avenue.
In Westport, Buller Mayor Garry Howard said: “It’s extremely noisy and bending the trees considerably,” Mr Howard said.
About lunchtime a bus was toppled over at Birchfields, just north of Westport; no one was injured.
Buller emergency services were run off their feet. The fire brigade was first called out before 8am to secure a roof that was lifting at Carters Beach. A window blew out at the Portobello Restaurant, in Palmerston Street, and trees were down throughout the town.
NZ Transport Agency senior network manager Mark Pinner said a temporary road closure had to be put in place at the Whataroa Bridge after powerlines were brought down.
The closure later had to be extended from Whataroa right through to Franz Josef Glacier.
With the long weekend coming, Mr Pinner said they would endeavour to get all roads open.
The winds started hitting Blaketown about midday.