Wind wreaks havoc in Central

Extreme winds swept through Queenstown and Central Otago yesterday, bringing down trees and power lines, closing roads and affecting flights.

Police said they had received more than 25 wind-related calls for help in the area, from 10am until late last night.

For about an hour, in early evening, winds and rain that had earlier struck Alexandra raged around Queenstown, bringing down trees over Speargrass Flat Rd and the Glenorchy-Queenstown Rd.

Heavy winds continued to strike the Lake Hawea, Queenstown and Wanaka areas after 9pm.

Crews prepare to clear a tree that fell on to power lines in Earnscleugh Rd, near Alexandra about 5pm yesterday. Photo: Pam Jones
Crews prepare to clear a tree that fell on to power lines in Earnscleugh Rd, near Alexandra about 5pm yesterday. Photo: Pam Jones
The wind havoc came just a day after a tree toppled in wind and on to a group of people at Shotover Jet, injuring five.

At 7pm, Aurora Energy said an estimated 4500 homes and businesses were without power after ''severe wind gusts and heavy rain'' caused widespread damage and power cuts in many places in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago. That number was down to 1100 by 10.30pm.

Aurora external relations head Gary Johnson said there were reports of downed trees and power lines and he urged residents to ''always treat downed lines as live and stay well clear''.

Just after 5pm, police and the Queenstown Lakes District Council responded to reports of trees and powerlines falling down on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Rd, completely blocking it at Bobs Cove.

A tree blocks traffic at the corner of Church St and Marine Parade in central Queenstown. Photo: Tu Bull
A tree blocks traffic at the corner of Church St and Marine Parade in central Queenstown. Photo: Tu Bull
A spokeswoman said a driver who reported the fallen trees was unable to turn around, with a large number of cars backing up on the road.

Police were later waiting for contractors to remove the trees.

The spokeswoman warned motorists to remain patient and avoid taking ''ridiculous'' risks after reports that some motorists had tried to leave by driving around fallen trees.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council confirmed trees and/or powerlines were also down in Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Rd, Hogans Gully Rd and Speargrass Flat Rd, between Hunter Rd, Domain Rd and at the corner of Church St and Marine Parade in the Queenstown CBD.

Hunter Rd, near Queenstown, is partly blocked by a fallen tree. Photo: Daisy Hudson
Hunter Rd, near Queenstown, is partly blocked by a fallen tree. Photo: Daisy Hudson
Meanwhile, near Alexandra, the Central Otago District Council closed Earnsleugh Rd overnight after trees and power lines came down there and in nearby Chapman Rd.

The strong winds also affected flights in and out of Queenstown. Three flights were cancelled by 7pm last night, while others were delayed.

Matt Pitt, of Queenstown, said he was working in the area near Lower Shotover Rd when the wind ''seriously'' picked up at 5pm.

Trees and debris block Speargrass Flat Rd, near Queenstown. Photo: Matt Pitt
Trees and debris block Speargrass Flat Rd, near Queenstown. Photo: Matt Pitt
''It's really strong winds - I was really worried about my house back in town because there's a really big tree next to it, and I thought it'd be down.''

But it was fine when he got home.

MetService forecaster Andy Downes said Queenstown's strongest official wind gust was recorded at Queenstown Airport at 4.57pm as 105kmh.

That there were such sudden, strong winds was to do with a front moving in at the warmest time of the day, dropping temperatures dramatically in front of it - it was 19degC in Queenstown at 4pm and 6degC by 5.30pm - which caused the air pressure to rise rapidly, contributing to a surge in the wind, he said.

Emergency services at work in Glenda Dr, Queenstown. Photo: Daisy Hudson
Emergency services at work in Glenda Dr, Queenstown. Photo: Daisy Hudson
The relatively short-lived period of exceptionally strong winds hit Alexandra first, where the peak gust of 83kmh was measured at Alexandra Airport at 4.30pm, though other, more exposed places, were likely to have experienced stronger wind gusts.

The wind in Wanaka was averaging 57kmh and gusting at 76kmh at 6pm.

Police said they received multiple calls, including from 6.30pm to 7.30pm about trees felled and sometimes blocking roads in the Hawea area, including a tree which fell on a house in Grandview Rd, Lake Hawea at 7.25pm.

No-one was hurt in this incident.

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