Tornado damages buildings, spooks cat

Basil the Burmese cat, having perhaps lost one or two of his nine lives - and pictured with...
Basil the Burmese cat, having perhaps lost one or two of his nine lives - and pictured with owners Wendy and Warren MacLeod - starts to calm down after his close encounter with a tornado and a piano, at a storm-damaged farmhouse near Waikouaiti on...
Police cars converge on a section of Ramrock Rd, about 2km south of Waikouaiti, after a tornado...
Police cars converge on a section of Ramrock Rd, about 2km south of Waikouaiti, after a tornado knocked limbs off nearby poplar trees, briefly blocking the road. Photo by Alan Brennan.
A tornado approaches the southern outskirts of Waikouaiti shortly after noon on Saturday. Photo...
A tornado approaches the southern outskirts of Waikouaiti shortly after noon on Saturday. Photo by Alan Brennan.

A frightened cat took refuge inside the family piano when a tornado hit a farmhouse on the southern outskirts of Waikouaiti on Saturday, ripping tiles off the roof, smashing windows, splintering trees and felling nearby power lines.

After the tornado struck about 12.30pm, power was briefly cut to parts of the township about 1pm, before being quickly restored.

In nearby Ramrock Rd, about 500m away, the limbs of several poplar trees were smashed down, blocking about a 40m-long section of the gravel road.

Power lines were also felled.

The road was quickly cleared by a farmer using a front-end loader to push the tree limbs off the road, and the power lines and affected poles were also repaired.

Basil, a 2-year-old Burmese cat, who had been alone in the farmhouse, was unhurt, having crept into a hole at the back of the piano to take refuge.

He was later lifted out of his unusual hiding place by his owner, farmer and truck driver Warren MacLeod, who had been away from home, visiting Dunedin with his wife, Wendy, when the tornado struck.

Pippa, the family's 10-year-old fox terrier, who had been tied up outside the farmhouse, was also shaken but unhurt.

After eventually re-entering the house with his owners, the dog drew attention to the piano, and to the still hidden Basil, after noticing something was unusual there.

Also unhurt when their kennels were blown away were five sheep dogs, which were quickly shifted to other housing.

Waikouaiti Volunteer Fire Brigade firefighters quickly secured the house's shattered ridge line and missing tiles, using a tarpaulin weighted down with wooden fence posts.

They also cleared up broken glass inside the house and secured two smashed windows with temporary repairs.

"It's a freak of nature, really," Mr MacLeod said.

The MacLeods, who headed home after being alerted by a phonecall from neighbours, were soon taking the drama in their stride.

They were thankful no-one had been hurt and the damage had not been greater.

A heavy wooden tractor-tray had been flung 30m away, and corrugated-iron sheets, which Mr MacLeod said could have decapitated anyone standing outside, were stripped from two farm sheds and flung far and wide.

"I feel philosophical.

''We're all right.

''It's only possessions [that had been damaged or lost].

''It gives you a shock, the more you look at it," he said.

The damage was covered by insurance.

In the aftermath of the tornado, the couple picked their way around the farmhouse lawns and garden, noticing the rotary clothesline was now drunkenly skewed, a big cypress tree was smashed, and several sizeable plants had been ripped out of the garden.

"There was a lovely big rhodie; where is it?" Mrs MacLeod asked, staring at a rhododendron-bush-sized gap in the garden.

Nine neighbours and friends, three of them equipped with chainsaws, converged on the farmhouse yesterday morning and quickly tidied up much of the damage, including removing fallen trees.

Waikouaiti Constable Lesley Eason and Waikouaiti Deputy Chief Fire Officer Stewart Paul said the tornado - which was seen by scores of the township's residents - could have caused much more extensive damage if it had gone right into the township.

"It was a twister, like on TV," Const Eason said.

She had been looking south from inside the police station, with a police colleague, and had noticed the tornado approaching, its long black funnel emerging from a stormcloud during an intense hailstorm, and sometimes reaching the ground, sometimes retracting.

"It was just an amazing thing.

''We watched it come, saw it coming right down to the ground and then it would go back to the clouds.

"It was just incredible.

''I've never seen anything like it.

"For about 10 minutes it looked as if it was coming straight for us.

"There would have been carnage if it had come through Waikouaiti."

She praised the work of the Waikouaiti fire brigade as "absolutely brilliant" and noted the community had quickly rallied round to help, including the farmer who had cleared Ramrock Rd.

 


 

 

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