A freak tornado hit Auckland Thursday killing three people and causing "utter devastation" as wild weather ripped apart homes and caused flash flooding in New Zealand's largest city. The storm, packing gusts of more than 110 kilometers (70 miles) per hour, struck suburban Hobsonville in the afternoon, toppling trees, ripping roofs from houses and sending debris flying. Civil Defense said three people died and seven were hospitalized, with two of the fatalities believed to have been caused by a concrete slab that landed on the cabin of a truck and the other by a falling tree. About 150 homes were badly damaged, many rendered uninhabitable, forcing residents into temporary accommodation at a nearby air force base.
Resident Suzanne McFadden said the storm roared through in "five minutes of utter devastation." Police urged people to stay indoors as flash floods blocked roads and falling trees brought down power lines, blacking out about 1,300 homes. The Met service weather agency said the tornado was created by a series of intense thunderstorms that lashed the city through the day, largely dissipating by early evening, although there were fears the winds could pick up overnight. Prime Minister John Key expressed condolences to the families of the dead and praised the efforts of emergency services, who swiftly sealed off an area of about one square kilometre (0.4 square miles) that was worst affected by the tornado. -TN