NZ battered by 'machine gun' tornado

Ben McKayAAP
A system passing to New Zealand's south has brought severe winds, thunderstorms and hail (file).
Camera IconA system passing to New Zealand's south has brought severe winds, thunderstorms and hail (file). Credit: EPA

The New Zealand town of Levin has been lashed by a tornado which damaged houses, destroyed fences and unearthed trees.

A low pressure system passing to New Zealand's south brought a number of fronts packed with severe gale-force winds, thunderstorms and hail to North Island on Friday.

In Levin, a small town 100km north of Wellington, residents were left shaken and tallying their damage bill when a tornado developed around around 6:30am NZST.

The local council says over 30 homes have been damaged.

Levin resident Tyson Sager told the NZ Herald he "saw my mate's car flying backwards down the road".

"It was a red station wagon and it was just flying down the road and the wind was blowing it like nothing."

Deputy Mayor Jo Mason told Newshub the central town had suffered "significant damage".

Some of the town's main streets are flooded, while huge trees and power-lines lay strewn on others.

Crews are working to restore power to thousands of homes after mass outages in the district, while the SPCA cares for displaced animals.

In a statement, police confirmed a tornado "ripped" through the town.

"We will have staff in Levin today providing community reassurance and assisting with any clean-up," a police spokesman said.

Tornados are semi-common in New Zealand, with meteorological agency NIWA reporting 7-10 occur each year.

In June 2021, an Auckland port worker was killed on the job when a tornado passed through the city's southern suburbs.

Friday's storm also produced heavy hail in Ohau, where farmer Jay Clarke said it looked like "someone got a machine gun out and shot a machine gun at every single cabbage, silverbeet or lettuce in the paddock".

"We're looking at the worst hail damage in 44 years of growing in the district. Catastrophic would be the only word to describe it," he told Radio NZ.

"There's nothing left of the crop."

While Levin was hardest hit, there were reports of another tornado passing through agricultural land near Waitara near New Plymouth.

In Cambridge, east of Hamilton, Newshub reports a woman needed rescuing after she was trapped and seriously injured by a falling tree.

Further north on Friday, Auckland's Harbour Bridge was closed due to crosswinds topping 95km an hour.

On South Island, fronts associated with the low pressure system have brought the first major snow of the season.

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