A freak tornado hit New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland yesterday, killing one person and injuring dozens more as it ripped the roof off a suburban shopping mall.
Packing winds of 200kph, the twister hit the suburb of Albany without warning at about 3pm, flipping cars and uprooting trees as it carved a trail of destruction stretching for kilometers.
Television footage showed huge pieces of roofing and wreckage flying through the air, sending panicked locals fleeing for their lives.
Witnesses said the tornado sounded like “a giant vacuum cleaner” when it tore across the Albany Megacentre, one of the largest shopping malls in the country.
“All we could see was a big black cloud spinning above it and debris flying everywhere,” Samantha Davey, who works in the mall, told national radio.
Authorities initially reported two dead, but later revised the toll down to one, with Auckland Mayor Len Brown expressing amazement more were not killed, particularly considering the hundreds who died in recent US twisters.
The tornado is the latest in a string of disasters to hit New Zealand, including two earthquakes in Christchurch, the second of which claimed more than 180 lives, and a colliery explosion in November last year in which 29 miners died.
Witness Rob Crawford said the shopping center resembled a disaster movie after the tornado, which passed over in less than 30 seconds.
“Car parks scattered with the remains of trees, upturned cars. There’s iron off the roof ... it’s surreal,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “It’s a movie set. [You think] is this real, is this happening? But when you see people lying on the ground, covered in blood, clutching their heads, it’s damn real.”