Latest News: Storm rips through central NZ, blocking highways and railroads
WELLINGTON - A powerful winter storm battered central New Zealand yesterday, ripping a section of the roof from the capital's main airport and blocking key highways and railroads with snow and debris, the authorities said.
Snow blankets the pasture around historic sheep drover's hut near Rotorua. Wild weather has plagued New Zealand this year. -- REUTERS
Wellington's airport and passenger ferry services were closed down because of the gale-force winds and pounding seas.
Gusts of winds blowing at up to 180kmh downed several trees and power lines, said police spokesman Andre Kowalczyk.
Floods, mudslides and fallen trees created traffic snarls in Wellington, he said. On major highways in some areas, traffic was reduced to a single lane.
There were no reports of deaths.
New Zealand has been repeatedly hit by wild weather this year, with heavy snowfalls on South Island triggering avalanches last week and torrential rainfall causing devastating flooding in February and last month.
Yesterday, waves up to 14.5m high were recorded just outside Wellington's harbour, said the harbour master, Captain Mike Pryce.
The first reported injury in the storm was that of a seaman who broke a leg on a freight ferry crossing Cook Strait between North and South islands early yesterday.
Overnight winds stripped off part of the main airport terminal's roof, blowing debris across the closed runway.
Dozens of other roofs were also damaged, police said.
Storm-force winds and high tides dumped seaweed and debris on coastal roads, adding to the hazardous driving conditions.
Across southern North Island, heavy snow closed scores of highways and smaller roads, cutting access to some rural areas.
The Wairarapa farming region north of the capital was on flood alert after up to 200mm of rain fell and swollen rivers threatened to overflow.
Weather forecaster Augie Auer said the storm had virtually brought the east coast to a standstill, and it would 'be a long slow clearance...with the very strong winds easing only slowly during the day.