One dead as tornado hits New Zealand city
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Last Updated: Tuesday, May 03, 2011, 18:13
Wellington: A freak tornado hit New Zealand's largest city Auckland on Tuesday, killing two people and injuring dozens more as it ripped the roof off a suburban shopping mall.

Packing winds of 200 kilometres an hour, the twister hit the suburb of Albany without warning at about 3pm local time, flipping cars and uprooting trees as it carved a trail of destruction stretching for kilometres.

Television footage showed huge pieces of roofing and debris flying through the air after the tornado hit, sending panicked locals fleeing for shelter.

Witnesses said the tornado sounded like "a giant vacuum cleaner" when it tore across the Albany Megacentre, one of the largest shopping centres in the country.

Auckland mayor Len Brown said two people were killed and dozens injured, adding the death toll could rise.

"We've had two confirmed fatalities, it's absolutely disastrous," he told Radio New Zealand.

The tornado is the latest in a string of disasters to hit New Zealand, including two earthquakes in Christchurch, the second of which claimed more than 180 lives, and a colliery explosion last November in which 29 miners died.

Witness Rob Crawford said the scene around the shopping centre resembled a disaster movie after the tornado, which passed over in less than 30 seconds.

"Car parks scattered with the remains of trees, upturned cars. There's iron off the roof... it's surreal," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"It's a movie set. (You think) is this real, is this happening? But when you see people lying on the ground, covered in blood, clutching their heads, it's damn real."

One witness told Sky News that cars were crushed with people inside.

Shop worker Martin Sibrits said the resulting devastation looked like a bomb site.

"It was simply unbelievable, it was huge. I could see bit pieces of iron flying through the air, 100 metres up," he told Fairfax Media.

The Auckland city council said an emergency centre had been set up to coordinate relief efforts, while police urged people to stay indoors.

"We encourage people to return home, contact family if necessary. Leave roads near Albany commercial area free for emergency services," police said.

New Zealand Metservice meteorologist Peter Kreft said the tornado hit without warning and the damage stretched for kilometres, with the eye of the storm measuring more that 10 metres wide.


First Published: Tuesday, May 03, 2011, 18:13

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