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The central West Coast found itself in the eye of the storm yesterday morning as the remnant of powerful former tropical Cyclone Fehi made landfall.
The ferocious winds whipped up the Grey River bar and very nearly claimed two boats as they risked a crossing, while in Greymouth, roofs were ripped off, power lines downed and the central business district was left like a ghost town.
By 10.30am only business people were left in town. Schools throughout the West Coast were closing, and emergency services were closing off streets littered with flying roofs and debris.
Early yesterday afternoon, the Buller District Council ordered residents of the Orowaiti and Snodgrass Rd area in Westport to evacuate immediately, due to rising water. That was followed about 1pm by evacuations at coastal Granity, north of Westport, and half an hour later in Dommett Esplanade, Ward St and Monroe St, Cobden. Jellyman Park was swamped.
In Hokitika, the storm surge sent seawater flowing down Weld Lane towards the main shopping centre.
Two of Greymouth’s largest fishing boats, Ocean Odyssey and Moonshadow, tried to cross the bar about 9am and one was almost slammed into the rocks on the Blaketown tiphead.
Ocean Odyssey was apparently suffering from an electrical problem, and was being escorted by its sister ship, Moonshadow.
Having come within inches of the rocks at the river mouth, Ocean Odyssey was next blown around the tiphead to the south side, where it was again dangerously close to being driven against the rocks, in front of horrified onlookers. In the end, both boats abandoned the attempt and successfully headed back out to sea. Grey District Council chief executive Paul Pretorius closed the port half an hour later.
Large parts of State highway 6, including the Coast Road, were closed because of wind, and about 12.30pm the Rapahoe camping ground was evacuated as high tide coincided with storm surges.
Damage reports were coming in thick and fast as emergency services ran from one job to the next.
The roof also started peeling off the former Jacksons Tavern and a camper van was blown into a paddock, the occupants uninjured.
Trees were down everywhere, from Kumara Junction down to South Westland and north to Westport. The first damage report came in just before 9am from Runanga, when a garage started blowing apart, and parts ended up on the railway line. Other house roofs followed and, about 10am, an old shop opposite the Miners’ Hall in Runanga lost its frontage.
Hokitika was still without power at noon. The Westland District Council and West Coast Regional Council were both operating on generators and all areas had been placed on notice to conserve water.