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Disruption as storm closes Auckland Airport runway

April 12, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A wild storm driven by hurricane-force winds knocked down trees and power poles and tore roofs off houses in New Zealand’s North Island, with Air New Zealand warning it was “experiencing significant disruption across its network” and asking passengers to consider deferring any non-urgent travel.

In an eerie coincidence, the storm, which centred on Auckland but also hit other parts of New Zealand, struck on the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the inter-island ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour. The storm that sank the Wahine, world’s largest passenger-carrying car ferry at the time, cost 53 people their lives.

This week’s disruption, which served to reinforce the need for travel insurance, resulted from “weather conditions and the temporary closure of the Auckland Airport runway last night which required a number of flights to divert to other ports,” Air NZ advised.

“Air New Zealand reminds customers that due to the uncontrollable nature of this weather event, the airline cannot be responsible for any costs associated with disrupted travel should customers opt to commence their journey as planned.”

The airline said further disruption was expected and advised “those that must travel” yesterday “to expect disruptions and to consult the airline’s Arrivals and Departures page for the latest information”.

As often occurs when adversity strikes airlines, Air NZ added that its contact centre was “currently experiencing extremely high call volumes. If travel is not urgent, customers are asked to please defer calling”.

Air New Zealand said customers who no longer required to travel had the option of transferring their booking to another date or hold the fare value in credit for up to 12 months toward future travel.

More than 100 thousand homes and businesses have lost electricity after the storm and the New Zealand Herald quoted power company Vector saying it might be several days before supply is restored in some parts of Auckland.

An estimated 120,000 homes and businesses remained without power last night.

NZ MetService lead forecaster Michael Martens described the winds as “hurricane-force”, with the top gust hitting 213 kph at Manukau Heads, the two promontories that form the entrance to Manukau Harbour – one of Auckland’s two harbours.

Winds at Auckland Airport gusted to 120 kph. Debris closed the main runway and all flights diverted.

Other parts of New Zealand were hit as well, with fire and emergency services taking 1600 calls across the country overnight. A tornado swept through the North Island’s National Park, knocking down trees and flattening a house.

Roads flooded on the West Coast of the South Island. Downed trees closed State Highway 6 between Ross and Franz Josef Glacier.

Scientists say waters around New Zealand are 3C warmer than usual this year and the Tasman Sea was 6C warmer than average in November. Such “marine heatwaves” are  increasing in number, frequency and intensity, though their relationship to land storms is still being worked out.

Written by Peter Needham

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