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Tornado cleanup begins

Friday 7 Dec 2012 7:09 a.m.

Residents in parts of Auckland and Rotorua are waking up to a massive clean up operation this morning after a tornado left a path of destruction across the upper North Island.

Three people died and seven are still in hospital after the storm struck yesterday afternoon.

The death toll equals the country's previous worst tornado which occurred in Hamilton in 1948.

The names of yesterday's victims are yet to be released, with police still trying to notify their next-of-kin.

Prime Minister John Key will be getting a first-hand look at the devastation which caused havoc in his Helensville electorate when he tours the area today but says he does not expect to play much part in the recovery process.

“For the most part it’ll largely be local government with people actually looking to their own private insurers, but we’ll get an estimate of what’s taking place, y’know make sure that people’s insurance does cover them,” he told Firstline this morning.

The Prime Minister has spoken to some of the people in his electorate.

“The people I spoke to were saying it was a terrifying experience… and they were unsure about what was happening.”

Auckland Mayor Len Brown spent yesterday afternoon in the area and has called the loss of life a tragedy.

“I spent some time in the community just walking the streets and being with the local residents. It was just like a bomb site and it is devastation for them,” he told Firstline this morning, “film footage does not do it justice.”

The tornado has left 150 homes badly damaged, most of which house Defence Force personnel who work at the nearby Whenuapai Air Base.

“There were mixed reactions yesterday, there were some pretty happy to be alive and pretty happy to be safe and dry and there were others that were just absolutely distraught," Whenuapai Wing Commander Glenn Gowthorpe told Firstline.

The base’s mess hall has been turned into an impromptu relief center as teams work to clear debris in the area.

While yesterday's tornado was brief lasting just a few minutes it managed to cause a significant amount of damage to houses and infrastructure in the Whenuapai area.

Auckland Civil Defence controller Clive Manley says some of the damaged homes are now uninhabitable but hopes some residents will be able to return once inspections are complete.

Around 250 people were forced out of their homes when the tornado ripped through the Hobsonville area, 11 of which spent the night at the air base. The remaining 239 people spent the night with family and friends or in local hotels.

3 News weather reporter Mike Hall says instability in the atmosphere caused yesterday’s tornado.

“When warm air rises it rises very quickly, cools, condenses, makes these big clouds, a lot of upwards and downwards violent motions of air within that cloud, a lot of energy created, that energy’s gotta go somewhere,” he told Firstline this morning.

Current science does not allow the prediction of a tornado, though weather events around tornados can be predicted.

“The flashpoint from a thunderstorm to a tornado is such a volatile and spontaneous occurrence that, especially in New Zealand, it can’t be done as yet.”

NIWA meteorologist Richard Turner says the science body is working toward creating technology to allow the prediction of tornadoes and mesocyclones, and expects this to be able to be used within a year or two.

Vector Energy says around 635 customers remain without power.

State Highway 18, which was closed yesterday, has been reopened.

Air New Zealand all international backlog has been cleared, but some domestic flights remain delayed or cancelled. Passengers are urged to check their flights.

3 News

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