A freak storm described by police as a tornado hit New Zealand’s largest city Auckland Thursday causing “utter devastation”, with three people reportedly killed in ferocious winds.
The storm, which officials said packed wind gusts of up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, struck suburban Hobsonville in the afternoon, toppling trees, ripping roofs from houses and sending debris flying.
Police warned of flash flooding and urged residents to stay indoors, while officials said there had been power outages and Auckland Airport cancelled at least a dozen flights due to severe weather.
Resident Suzanne McFadden said the storm roared through in “five minutes of utter devastation”.
“It honestly looks like a bomb has gone off in the street,” she told NewstalkZB.
“I saw it coming across the river, the air went very electric and the sky went black. And then the wind started to whistle.”
The New Zealand Newswire reported two deaths occurred when a concrete slab landed on a truck, while the New Zealand Herald said police sources had confirmed three deaths.
A further seven people were being treated for injuries, Fairfax Media said.
Construction worker Sam Nuttall said the storm, which struck at 1:00pm (0000 GMT), came without warning.
“You couldn’t see it coming,” he told reporters.
“There was debris flying everywhere, steel flying around. Where I was we were sheltering between a big block wall and a truck and there were crates and everything flying at the truck, breaking the windows.
“I’ve never been in weather like that before.”
Police could not immediately confirm the deaths but said there was widespread damage.
“It seems there’s been a couple of twister-like tornadoes that have come through and done the damage,” a police spokeswoman said.
“We’re still assessing the situation at the moment.”
A spokesman for the Metservice weather agency said it was too early to say whether the storm was a tornado.
“We’ve had no visual confirmation,” he said. “The situation we have is a line of intense thunderstorms across Auckland and much of Northland.”
Metservice said storms would continue to batter the city until early evening and there was a risk of further damaging winds.
Another tornado hit the city in May last year, killing one and injuring dozens more as it ripped the roof off a suburban shopping mall.
New Zealand is prone to tornadoes but they are typically much smaller than those seen in North America, where a string of twisters killed dozens of people in the US Midwest last March.