South Auckland tornado: Papatoetoe residents share tales of a devastating morning

The tornado that tore through south Auckland this morning left homes damaged and wreckage strewn through the streets of Papatoetoe.

High winds tore off rooves, brought down power lines, uprooted trees and overturned vehicles.

A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokeswoman said firefighters and more than 20 crews have been attending about 100 calls relating to property damage.

Civil Defence has urged residents to follow advice from authorities, stay away from downed power lines, check on their neighbours and phone 111 if in danger.

Papatoetoe residents spoke with the Herald to share their stories of the devastating morning.

'It was just like you see in the movies'

Heather Haylock said she heard a loud noise, which she initially thought was a group of motorcyclists roaring down the street.

“Then the lights started to flicker, then there was this big wind gust.

“My teenagers were asleep and they got woken up … Once we got the family all together and made sure the kids were safe we went out and opened the front door and there was this amazing damage.

“Trees were snapped off at the roots, there’s a new house being built over the road and it’s all over on one side. Cars have been crushed by powerpoles. It’s kinda crazy really.”

Haylock said garage doors were ripped off, as were titles from many nearby homes and parts of a distinctive tree from about 200m down the road were now in her backyard.

“My daughter said there was wood flying past the window and twirling around in the sky. It was just like you see in the movies. I half expected a cow to come flying past.”

Haylock said a mother and her baby in the house next door were lucky to escape unharmed after a piece of wood smashed through a large window and into the bedroom where they were sleeping.

“She was obviously really upset. The glass missed the baby – there’s a whole series of miracles down the street.”

'My 10-year-old thought she was going to die'

Annelise Greenfield huddled in the hallway with her husband and three children and prayed as the tornado tore its way up Grande Vue Rd.

“The noise was horrendous, it sounded like our roof was being ripped off. My 10-year-old thought she was going to die. She was petrified.”

Greenfield had been in bed when she heard the rain getting really loud.

“I jumped out of bed and looked out the window and saw leaves and debris flying around and I recognised it was a tornado.”

She scrambled her family, including a 10-year-old, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, to safety.

“It sounded like a plane was landing on our house. We sat in the hallway and hugging each other and started praying.”

When they eventually ventured outside they were shocked by the extent of damage.

“Everyone was in total shock and disbelief. Our letterbox was at the front door. We have lost some of our fence. Our shed roof is in the street behind us. Our next-door neighbour has no roof – there’s about four or five houses in our street that have no roofs.”

Greenfield and her family walked around trying to check on people and her husband, a builder, helped one of the neighbours replace some roof tiles after putting a tarpaulin over their own damaged roof.

“It was quite devastating and there’s a lot of people in shock.”

She said one house about three doors down had all of the windows blown in, the roof was gone and a van had been flipped over.

“They were all absolutely shocked and crying.”

She’s unsure how much it will cost to repair her home but says there is a fair amount of damage.

“Our garage door has been smashed in, the fence needs replacing, the basketball hoop landed on my daughter’s car which is all smashed in. The spa pool lid flipped and there is glass on the deck and spa – I don’t even know where it’s come from.”

She is just grateful no one along her street appears to have been injured.

“As much as we are all in shock, everyone is just helping everyone and everyone seems to be okay.”


'My house is falling apart'

Cathay Hettell has only been in her new “dream home” for a month. Now it’s missing a bathroom window, the fences are down and part of a roof from someone else’s home are on her roof.

The 31-year-old, who is four months pregnant, woke to what sounded like “hard hail” this morning.

“I thought ‘oh, that’s an interesting sound’, then it literally felt like my house was taking off.”

She said there was lots of banging.

“Then the bathroom window crashed in and glass flew everywhere. I was just thinking ‘my house is falling apart’.”

When she went outside she saw damage everywhere.

“There was a truck rolled over which was insane. There were pieces of other people’s roofs on our roof. The fence had fallen down. Across the road from us you could see right through the roof, there were holes everywhere.”

Hettell said she was lucky her house was “relatively unscathed” compared to others in Ballance Ave.

“I have just packed a bag and left because I don’t think we are going to get power for a while.”

Roof torn away

Victoria had been with her mum putting her son into a car in the driveway of their Wentworth Ave home when the tornado blew in all of a sudden.

It buffeted her with such force she had to bend down to keep her balance, as she shielded her infant son in her arms.

She and her mum pressed themselves against the side of the house for shelter as the wind roared about them and debris began flying.

A large branch from the pine tree behind them was brought down and blown into the back of the car – leaving a crack in it – where they had just been.

The three ran around the back and into the house, where her worried husband rushed to meet them.

The traumatic experience left the couple’s 5-year-old son frightened and crying for the next 20 minutes.

Victoria said she was lucky she had been on the left-hand side of the new home they only bought last November.

That was because the major force of the tornado hit the right side of the home.

There it tore down a series of fences and tore tiles and metal sheeting off the home’s roof.

That had left the upper floor bedrooms exposed to the weather through a hole in the roof.

Victoria’s husband could be seen popping his head out the through the home in the roof to inspect the damage.

Standing on the right side of the home, the path of the tornado could be seen as it passed along a narrow band into the home of the neighbours behind.


'It all lasted about 10 seconds'

Erin Walker had been sleeping in the front bedroom of her home when branches from a nearby home crashed down.

Leaping up to check on her baby, the collision smashed the front window, throwing glass down onto the pillow where Walker had been just a second earlier.

Normally Walker’s baby would’ve been in the bed.

Luckily, because her parents were staying, Walker had temporarily moved into the front room and placed her child onto the mattress below.

Out the front of her home huge branches from a second tree crashed across Landscape Rd, hitting cars and blocking access to the street.

Within seconds the tornado tore off tiles, metal sheeting and insulation from Walker’s back roof, sending the materials flying into the properties behind.

“It all lasted about 10 seconds,” Walker said. “Looked out the window, came and gone, just like that.”

Next door a boat was also tossed sideways, while nearby fences and rooves were also damaged.

Luckily no one in Walker’s home was hurt, but she hadn’t seen her cats since the storm.

With debris blocking access to her house, Walker’s mum had been unable to leave the house and remained inside in a front room, one of the few that still had a roof overhead.

By 10am neighbours and rental property owners had banded together in work crews to cut away the trees blocking Landscape Rd.

Then they turned their attention to Walker’s front yard, working with chainsaw and axe to cut a pathway to her front door.



'Everything was flying'

Across the road from Erin Walker, Mukesh Chand was enjoying a cup of tea when his house began to shake.

He saw the wind spiral into a tornado shape and debris start flying into the air, he said.

The gusts damaged some tiles on his roof and blew a section of his fence over.

“Just with five minutes, everything’s gone,” Chand said. “Everything was flying.”

Next door to Chand, a worker had been onsite working on a new Kainga Ora housing complex.

They rushed to the bottom of the exposed worksite, circled by scaffolding, and were not hurt.

Chand said his power was still off and the damage around his property meant he was blocked in.

'Things smashing everywhere'

Sannan Tariq was with his wife and two daughters at home on Pallant St in Manurewa when the storm struck.

“We could hear things smashing everywhere. For a minute I was a bit worried that our windows might break but it was over pretty quick, less than five minutes. I went outside straight away and saw the debris everywhere.”

Big chunks of a tree fell down in the storm and toppled Tariq’s front fence. He tried to move them himself, but they were quite heavy.

He was on the phone to the council when he saw a stranger, who was walking by, starting to clean up his driveway.

“I was quite touched by that … random people chipping in. I just shook his hand and said ‘thank you so much’.”

'My bedroom was two metres away'

Dr Kanti Patel lives on Wilmay Ave and says his house had the roof smashed in, his fence destroyed and a “huge” tree ripped from its roots landed just two metres from his bedroom where he was.

“Obviously sure [it was dangerous]. On Wilmay Ave the tree fell into the fence and my bedroom was just two metres away,” Patel said.

“I don’t know where the tree came off the root – just this huge tree and fell onto our fence where my bedroom is.

“We have this huge complex … and I’m just assessing a few things but I know in Wilmay Ave where I stay, it ripped off the fence, the tree fell onto it, the glass was broken, the fence was gone.”


'Kind of dangerous'

Prakash Patel was sheltering inside the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Papatoetoe when the tornado came through about 8.15am.

He said about four trees had been ripped down outside on Wentworth Ave, and 15 or so fences destroyed.

“Inside the temple there is a door where the glass was damaged,” Patel said.

“The glass was completely cracked and fell down. It was kind of dangerous.

“Outside the houses there are fences damaged. Some of the houses – the roofs are out and many many houses are damaged completely. A lot of damage.”

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