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Pre-schoolers sang Incy Wincy Spider and babies slept as they sheltered in a hallway while a damaging tornado ripped through New Plymouth this afternoon.
Two buildings were damaged when the tornado struck on Oropuriri Rd in the Taranaki city's north-east about 2pm.
One building which lost its roof was Pioneer Manufacturing Ltd, also known as Metro Fires, and Kidszone Preschool head teacher Jess Sandford saw it happen as she stood in the pre-school's kitchen.
"It went flying off. It was a little bit surreal ... it took me a moment to realise, that's not rubbish, that's actually corrugated iron flying off someone's roof."
She rushed to the main room of the pre-school, where 27 children aged between 2 and 5 were.
"I just screamed 'lockdown'."
That meant moving the children into the hallway, where they would be away from windows.
It was "noisy and scary", and there were a few tears from some children, but the teachers - whose own hearts were beating fast - put on a brave face, Sandford said.
They kept the children calm by talking to them about what they had done so far that
day - playing in the sandpit and watching the movie Despicable Me.
They also sang nursery songs, including old favourites Incy Wincy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, she said.
She had spoken to staff in the neighbouring nursery, where staff also moved 15 children aged from newborn to 2 to their own hallway.
"They were quite lucky because some of [the children] were asleep."
All the children were safe, she said.
A fire service spokesman said they received a call from one business who said a tornado had gone through it and a neighbouring building about 40 minutes earlier.
"It was very minor damage to the buildings," the fire spokesman said.
Roofing iron had been ripped off a building's roof and dumped in a carpark.
Assistance from the fire brigade was not needed and no other properties appeared to have been affected, he said.
A witness said part of the roof of Metro Fires had been ripped off with roofing scattered over nearby cars.
One man posted video and photos of the damage showing the mangled wing mirror on his ute.
A resident also posted online saying the tornado had moved the trampoline, left a hole in the wall and damaged trees.
Kidszone Preschool and Nursery, situated on the nearby Parakau Rd, posted to its Facebook page shortly after the tornado hit letting parents know children were safe.
"All children, staff, and the buildings are all safe. We followed our lockdown policy and the children will be kept indoors for the rest of the afternoon. There is some damage of buildings on that road, please be wary when coming to collect your children."