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Region stays strong through gale winds

While most of Wairarapa was hunkering down on Sunday night as gusts of more than 200kmph buffeted the region, fire crews from Masterton and Castlepoint were dealing with a burning power pole in Mataikona that had been sparked by the wind.

A spokesperson for Fire and Emergency NZ confirmed the crews responded to the incident at 10pm, and the situation was under control in just over an hour.

Castlepoint Volunteer Fire Brigade controller Anders Crofoot said the gusts meant it took a while to isolate the line and make it safe.

“So we had loose lines swinging all around, and they were potentially live but eventually they got out and isolated things,” he said.

A light rain that started falling was a saving grace, as it prevented any sparks off the pole from igniting the surrounding grass.

“There were a few spots on the ground that had to be put out but other than that, just the burning pole sending sparks,” Crofoot said.

“If it had been dry, it would have sparked fires all over. But since we were getting a bit of rain and it was damp, they just went out, so that was really fortunate.”

Data from the Fire and Emergency weather station at Featherston said wind levels in the area peaked at 151kmph at 8.37pm on Sunday evening.

Data from the Castlepoint weather station, however, indicated that at 8pm on Sunday gusts on the coast hit a whopping 217kmph – the highest wind speed Crofoot has seen in the region in over 25 years.

A Powerco spokesperson said 111 households on Mataikona Rd lost power due to the burning power pole, 42 of which were reconnected by midnight and another 53 the next morning by backfeeding.

Featherston Fire Chief Colin McKenna said the crew responded to 22 calls on Sunday. PHOTO/FILE

As of 2.30pm yesterday, 302 households in the region were still without power, and the spokesperson said the crew were out in “full force” working on reconnections.

“This morning field crews were out determining the extent of damage and the resources required to make repairs. Most outages were caused by trees bringing down lines,” the spokesperson said.

“Crews are now prioritising reconnection work by focusing on reconnecting high-voltage lines that restore large groups of customers, followed by low-voltage lines that reconnect smaller groups.”

Crew from other regions were brought in to assist with the high volume of repairs and the spokesperson said they would be working into Monday evening.

“However, it is likely at this stage that some customers will be off overnight.”

Out on Wairarapa’s coast, Helen McFadzean – co-owner of the 14,000 acre Glenburn Station – said it was the strongest wind she’s seen in quite some time.

“We have had more wind in the past two or three weeks than we have had in two years,” McFadzean said.

“Out here, it’s just what you have to put up with. Make sure your doors and windows are secure because it comes in quite ferocious gusts.”

McFadzean said when they went down to their workshop yesterday morning, they discovered some of their farm equipment in pieces.

NZDF delivers supplies to stricken communities in Tinui and Castlepoint. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“The wind had taken two lots of the portable gates with plywood and blown them to hell,” McFadzean said.

“They were sitting behind the workshop, which we thought would have been quite protected, but obviously they’ve got a bit of a twister, and one of the gates was smashed.”

McFadzean said another impact from the gales is that the wind has dried out the ground, so “a little rain wouldn’t go amiss”.

Despite the force of the gusts, the region appears to have fared surprisingly well in terms of the total extent of damage.

“There are a lot of branches down, but there doesn’t seem to be too much damage around, which is good,” Crofoot noted, while Featherston Volunteer Fire Brigade chief Colin McKenna told the Times-Age that the crew responded to a total of 22 calls on Sunday, and a couple more relating to the weather yesterday.

“The ones today were minor things,” McKenna said.

“It surprises me that there weren’t more trees down – the ground must be hardening up a bit.”

A South Wairarapa District Council spokesperson said a small number of reports of damage were received from residents, mostly concerning “a number of trees down over the weekend on and across the roads”.

“Each tree was assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine the health and safety risks in removing them in high wind situations.”

A Carterton District Council spokesperson said it didn’t receive any reports of damage over the weekend, while a Masterton District Council [MDC] spokesperson said a few reports of wind-related issues had been received, including trees down on Homebush Rd and Masterton-Castlepoint Rd.

Both were cleared without significant disruption, and the MDC spokesperson said there was no significant storm damage to parks and reserves.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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