A MASSIVE clean-up operation has begun in west Auckland where three people were killed, seven injured and hundreds displaced after one of three tornadoes in the area touched ground.
Two people working on a construction site were killed when a concrete slab landed on a truck on St Georges Road in Hobsonville after one of the tornadoes hit just after midday on Thursday.
Civil Defence says three people have been confirmed dead, but Superintendent Bill Searle told media two were killed and police held grave concerns for another construction worker at the site where a new high school is being built.
A large number of police, fire and ambulance staff remained at the scene on Thursday evening and debris was still being cleared.
“It’s early on in the investigation and we need to make sure we get all the facts straight before we release any information (on the two deceased and missing person),” Supt Searle said.
St John Ambulance says seven people from the construction site were taken to hospital with minor to moderate injuries.
The death toll equals the previous worst tornado, which killed three people in Hamilton in 1948 and wrecked 150 houses.
A statement from Hawkins Construction, who subcontracted those killed and injured, said their thoughts are with the workers’ families.
Supt Searle said the tornado trapped a small number of people in their homes, but they had since been evacuated.
Families from up to 150 damaged homes – most home to Defence Force personnel – were evacuated and most of them will be housed at the Whenuapai Air Base.
About 250 people have so far arrived at the air base.
“(It was) like a knife through butter for some of those trees,” said Auckland mayor Len Brown. “A powerful tornado, devastating.”
He said it was a “real disaster and tragedy for those families and for those that are in hospital and to the families who have been made homeless”.
Power has been cut to around 1300 customers in the Hobsonville-Whenuapai area after trees fell on lines.
On Thursday evening families had begun clearing debris from yards and boarding up broken windows while contractors removed split and fallen trees.
Shaken construction worker Sam Nuthall, who was working at the school site, was forced to shelter between a block wall and a truck.
“You couldn’t see it coming … there was debris flying everywhere, steel getting thrown around,” he told Radio New Zealand.
A Whenuapai resident Suzanne McFadden told 3News it was “five minutes of utter devastation”.
“It ripped century-old pine trees out of the ground, it’s taken roofs off houses, it’s crushed cars and boats.”
Some flights in and out of Auckland Airport were delayed or cancelled, but normal operations have since resumed.
The highest gust of wind recorded was 151km/h at Snapper Rock in Albany.
The weather front moved south to Bay of Plenty where another tornado touched down about 3.20pm at Hamurana injuring one person.
Trees and power lines were downed and roofs lifted in the town on the northern shore of Lake Rotorua about 17km from Rotorua.
Fire Service shift manager Colin Underdown said it also caused some children to be evacuated from Mokoia Intermediate, and an ambulance had to collect one person who was “thrown around by the tornado”.
Meanwhile, more, possibly heavy, rain and gusts of up to 100km/h are expected in Auckland overnight. High winds will batter the city on Friday.