Cyclone Pam: North Island braces for wrath of storm

SCCZEN_130315SPLPAM21_620x310The tail end of a brutal cyclone that has claimed dozens of lives and wreaked havoc in Vanuatu will hit New Zealand late tonight, bringing heavy rain, gale-force winds, flooding and dangerous sea swells. Civil Defence last night warned parts of the North Island faced power outages and significant damage, and urged those in the path of destruction to stock up with supplies for three days and avoid leaving home. The MetService warns there will be a 24-hour intense-risk period from 9pm tonight until 9pm tomorrow.
Cyclone Pam – one of the worst storms the Pacific has experienced – is thought to have claimed up to 44 lives as it hit Vanuatu, destroying buildings and tossing trees and debris across the capital. Eight were confirmed dead last night. There were unconfirmed reports…… last night of damage in other islands including Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.
It is due to hit New Zealand about 9pm. Wind gusts of up to 130km/h are expected in Auckland tonight and into tomorrow. The eastern seaboard from Northland to Hawkes Bay is at risk and Gisborne and the Bay of Plenty are tipped to be worst hit.
Philip Duncan of said Cyclone Pam’s direct hit on Vanuatu was more ferocious than expected, with winds gusting up to 340km/h. “It’s certainly a sizeable, memorable, historical storm.” He expected East Cape, Gisborne, eastern Bay of Plenty and northern Hawke’s Bay would start to see the severe winds and heavy rain associated with the cyclone from late tonight. “It looks as though it will rapidly increase overnight.” People could go to bed thinking the storm was only minor and wake up to gale-force winds, he said.
Auckland Civil Defence is urging people to stay home and avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. People in low-lying flood-prone areas should have a getaway kit ready in case they need to move quickly.
General disruption is expected across the city, including power outages and storm damage.
In Gisborne an emergency operations centre was yesterday being set up with another on standby in Hawkes Bay.
Civil Defence volunteers along the east coast will today be going house to house to ensure all residents are aware of the risks.
Gisborne councillor Bill Burdett said his small East Coast town of Ruatoria was preparing for a battering. “People round here are preparing for the worst.”
“They’ve been at the local Hikurangi supermarket today buying up lots of stuff. One or two are even boarding up windows. They say it’s going to be worse than Cyclone Bola.”
Burdett advised locals not to panic and to help neighbours if they got into trouble. Hawkes Bay Coastguard duty officer Keith Nicoll warned people to stay away from the coast as towering 8m waves and storm surges were forecast. “This is certainly not the time to go down to the shore and watch the waves come crashing in.”
Gisborne harbourmaster Rahul Doshi said the port would be closed to all ships from midday until further notice.
He was also advising yachties berthed in the town’s inner harbour to man their vessels during the storm. “If the weather turns to custard and a line snaps we need people to use their engines. A rogue vessel running around can cause enormous damage.”
Eastern areas of Northland and Auckland face significant rainfall and dangerous sea conditions and exposed areas of the Hauraki Gulf could experience severe winds. Residents north of Whangaparaoa are being warned seas could rise to around 3.5m this afternoon and up to 5m tomorrow. Streams and rivers were also likely to flood.
(With Thanks NZ Herald)