Houses torn in half and debris everywhere, a Levin neighbourhood ‘’looks like a bomb went off’’ after a tornado ripped through the lower North Island town.
Thirty to 50 houses have been damaged by the violent burst of bad weather, while many more front yards are a tangle of broken fences.
Horowhenua District Council reported the town was hit by a tornado at 6.30am, causing havoc. Buildings were ripped apart, trees were torn down, roads were closed and power was lost for thousands of residents.
The state highway through Levin has since reopened as Civil Defence emergency teams assist emergency services with the clean up.
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Tornado rips through Levin on Friday morning.
Police, fire and emergency, St John, contractors and arborists were all in action.
Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden said there were 10 homes that were inhabitable. A Mayoral Relief Fund to assist people affected by the tornado has been established, with a starting contribution of $100,000 from the council, which central government would match.
“The extent of the damage is still unveiling itself, but what we know is that our community needs help. The Mayoral Relief Fund will be used to help those in our community who have suffered loss and damage as a result of today’s severe weather event.”
St John received one call relating to the tornado, at 6.43am. One ambulance responded to the scene and treated and transported a patient to Palmerston North Hospital with minor injuries.
Horowhenua District Council said in a statement one person had suffered minor injuries as a result of broken glass.
Cambridge St was closed between Liverpool to Bath streets, but was due to reopen shortly.
Gladstone Rd and Tawa St were also closed while Wilton St, Winchester St, Tararua Rd, Parker St, and Sterling St had reopened.
A number of power lines were down or damaged on Parker Ave, Victoria St, Tawa St, George St, Adkin Ave, Skye St, Cambridge Place, and Mako Mako Rd.
According to Electra there were 800 homes or businesses still without power in Horowhenua and Kāpiti.
At the peak of the storm 4800 customers were lost power in Levin and Ōtaki. The outages were primarily down to wind damage and loose debris blown into the lines.
All available fault crews were working to restore electricity, with additional contractors assisting.
Horowhenua council had received 10 welfare calls and a rapid response caravan had been moved to the Levin Fire and Emergency Station.
Wanden said his thoughts were with those affected by the storm.
“With properties largely being secured, the focus now shifts to ensuring people are safe and families are housed.”
Wayne Tippet, the executive general manager claims for AMI, State and NZI, said the insurance providers had received 100 claims related to Friday’s wild weather by 12.30pm, largely for damage to homes and roofs.
He expected the numbers to climb as the extent of damage became clearer.
Stunned by force of tornado
Sign craftsman Jay Dahya was travelling through Levin from Wellington to Palmerston North on Friday morning and couldn’t believe the damage on Cambridge St.
He said it looked like a bomb had gone off and thought there had been a gas explosion as houses had been blown apart and debris covered the area.
“I have never seen anything like that, I honestly thought there had been a massive explosion. It was absolutely shocking.”
A woman who didn’t want to be named was watching the cleanup at several properties on Winchester St.
She said she felt sorry for the people affected as the area was known to have a poorer population and the damage was devastating.
“My heart just goes out to them, the damage here is unbelievable. Where will they go?”
More severe weather looming
MetService duty meteorologist Lewis Ferris said Levin experienced a brief and intense event, and the region was not completely out of the woods yet.
There was still a severe thunderstorm watch in place covering much of the western North Island, which could see 2cm hailstones and wind gusts up to 120kmh.
There was a second band of thunderstorms approaching, and the watch was in place until 11am.
Community launches into cleanup
Craig Jones, foreman at Paul Ireland Digger Hire, said his team were on the cleanup job.
Two trucks and a digger/loader were clearing Oxford St of debris.
“I reckon the state highway will be fully cleared in another hour or so,” he said at 11.12am.
“Our depot was fine and my house was fine but neighbours and a few other people down the road and a few other people lost their roof.”
Janine Arnold from Mitre 10 Levin said they were offering to deliver free tarpaulins to anyone who had their house damaged as a result of the storm.
It was a “bit of good will” and they had already received phone calls from people wanting to take them up on the offer.
Domino’s Levin was offering to deliver free lunches to those affected by the tornado.
Franchise owner Jeshwant Rao said it was not the first time he had done something like this for the town.
“I sponsor a lot of schools and stuff, but this time I wanted to do a little bit more. We are actually going into the community and helping them.”
He had posted the offer to Facebook and said he had already received a “big” response.
His shop was not damaged but he had staff away who were affected.
Store manager Ram Injam said many homes were damaged and without power, so people were unable to cook.
“They can’t leave their house…we are just trying to give them some help and do as much as we could [sic].”
Police said in a statement officers would provide community reassurance and help with the cleanup.
“We are aware of a tornado that occurred in Levin this morning. We are also aware of surface flooding and powerlines down following the event.”
The Horowhenua District Council was also calling for volunteers to assist with the clean up, including any contractors with trucks or members of the community with trailers.
Volunteers could meet at 15-23 Durham St at 9am on Saturday. The council asked people to bring suitable safety gear and footwear.
MP’s office among worst hit
Ōtaki MP Terisa Ngobi’s office on Oxford St was among the most damaged, the tornado destroying the rear of the building on South Lane.
She has been on the scene assessing the damage and helping residents in Levin.
“We’re telling people not to travel on the roads unless absolutely necessary.
‘“There’s a lot of floodwater on the State Highway 1 detour and traffic is pushing that floodwater down the streets and towards people’s cars and houses.
“So we’re asking residents not to travel by car if they can help it.”
City Honda Horowhenua and Stihl Shop Levin manager Wayne McKinlay arrived to carnage outside his Oxford St store.
“The modern front part of the store is fine but the back wall is held back with straps, and ready to fall out.
“It ripped the back walls away from the buildings next door.”
His staff are out with chainsaws chopping up the fallen trees at Adventure Park.
“We’ve still got power and we can still trade. We’re so lucky because if it hadn’t have turned away from us at the last minute, we would’ve had it.”
At the front of the shop the only damage was a broken sign, and the large novelty Stihl chainsaw on the roof had been felled.
National emergency support not needed
The National Emergency Management Agency was monitoring the situation, but a spokesman said the response was being managed locally at this stage. There had been no requests for national support so far.
Horowhenua District Council said Fire and Emergency had activated an Urban Search and Rescue team, which would work alongside the council’s building team to assess roads and streets that were damaged or closed.
A welfare support centre had been set up at the Youth Space in Te Takeretanga-o-kura-hau-pō on Bath St.
Welfare officers were working to secure accommodation for those that had been displaced, and a rapid response caravan had been set up in the Levin Mall car park.
The Levin Wastewater Treatment Plant had suffered non-critical isolated damage and the Foxton Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant had a power outage.
Water treatment plants at Shannon and Tokomaru were offline due to turbidity. Water storage capacity was sufficient, but as a precaution tankers had been activated for Tokomaru.
The Palmerston North City Council rescue emergency support team had been deployed to assist and Rangitīkei District Council had offered assistance to capture drone footage, to understand the extent of the damage.
Animal Control was working with the SPCA, picking up and caring for displaced animals.
Supplies were being deployed by teams on the ground to assist with damaged properties and to weatherproof houses.
The community centre Te Takeretanga-o-kura-hau-pō is closed for the day.