Cyclone Lusi: Coastal communities brace for storm

Auckland's coastal communities are bracing themselves against potentially dangerous storm surges, as battering winds and lashing rain are expected to hit much of upper New Zealand today.

Cyclone Lusi is expected to make its way down northern parts of the country today, tracking southwest off the coast, and bringing with it high swells and 120km/h winds.

Its presence was already starting to be felt last night, as thick clouds darkened skies and rain began to fall in northern areas. MetService issued weather warnings, including one for gale-force winds in Auckland.

The region's eastern and northeast beach residents have been warned they could be worst hit by the storm, with high levels of erosion and potential damage to beachfront properties possible, particularly at high tide around 7.29am and 7.56pm, Auckland Council said.

Civil Defence warned people to avoid beaches between the hours of 2pm and 10pm, prepare for power cuts and avoid unnecessary travel - naming Omaha, Snells Beach, Algies Bay, Waiwera, Hatfields Beach, Orewa and Red Beach as "high risk".

Omaha resident Bridget Allen said locals had "battened down the hatches" in preparation of the storm, securing outdoor furniture and bringing in emergency supplies in case of a power cut.

The sea was already "very rough" last night, she said, and her family planned to spend today indoors as advised.

Of moderate risk were Stanmore Bay, Big Manly, Tindalls Beach, Matakatia Bay, Arkles Bay, Long Bay, Waiake, Browns Bay, Murrays/Mairangi Bay, Campbells Bay, Castor Bay, Milford Beach, Takapuna Beach, Cheltenham, Narrow Neck and Claris.

Two-metre swells are expected near beaches north of Whangaparoa, while out to sea swells could reach up to 7-8m in the Far North. Swells of around 4-6m could push in towards Coromandel and western parts of Bay of Plenty later today.

The Waitakere and Hunua ranges are expected to be lashed with the heaviest, which would have the potential to cause slips, Civil Defence said.

Emergency services, councils and Civil Defence are bracing themselves for a hectic weekend, bringing in extra staff, pooling resources and developing response plans.

The Fire Service yesterday sent extra firefighters and equipment to Northland from Takapuna station ahead of the approaching storm, in order to be in place for any potential damage from gale-force winds and rain.

Housing New Zealand also said it would make extra staff available over the weekend, with maintenance contractors ready to deal with any urgent repairs.

However, residents in at-risk coastal areas have been told it's a case of "neighbour helping neighbour" to ensure safety.

The brunt of Cyclone Lusi's force is expected to strike the North Island throughout today, before gradually weakening as it moves into the South Island tomorrow.

The storm should be clear of New Zealand by Monday, with only a few showers and brisk winds remaining in the south and east.

Canterbury is bracing itself for more flooding, with the Christchurch City Council saying it is preparing for the worst case scenario following recent damaging floods in the area.

Around 22,000 sandbags will be filled and ready for collection in various locations across the city by noon today, with all emergency response teams on stand-by.

Meanwhile, farmers are welcoming the expected onslaught of rain for their parched land, particularly the west coast of the North Island, Waikato, Auckland and Hauraki Coromandel.

"I know there'll be a fair number of farmers in Waikato and Northland who'll dance a jig at the first drops of rain," said Katie Milne, Federated Farmers adverse events spokeswoman.

"Some on the North Island's west coast haven't seen decent rain since last November."

However, she warned farmers to be prepared for the storm conditions in advance.

- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ

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