Tornado strikes New Zealand

Update 5:43pm AEST:
New Zealand police say they can only confirm one person is dead after a destructive tornado swept across Auckland's northern suburbs on Tuesday.

Earlier New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he had been told by the Police Commissioner two people had died and other unconfirmed reports put the number at three.

Police later revised the figure down and said they believed only one person had died.

Police say the terrifying twister swept through the north suburbs of New Zealand's biggest city about 3pm (1pm AEST) on Tuesday, travelling at speeds of over 200 kilometres per hour.

About 20 people were being treated at the scene and nearby North Shore Hospital. Three were believed to be in critical condition.

According to reports, the "mass of black clouds" tossed aside cars in its path and sent shoppers running.

Police have confirmed there are "numerous injuries" caused by the tornado.

Emergency services say the tornado followed a straight line south from Albany before dying out near Pt Chevalier to the west of Auckland Central.

It has been reported on weatherwatch.co.nz that the tornado would have had an average wind speed of 200km/hr.

Its head weather analyst Philip Duncan says that damage is consistent with wind speeds of between 180 and 200km/hr.

An eye-witness in Albany described the tornado as sounding like rolling thunder. They saw the tornado heading south towards the Harbour Bridge and could see debris being flung everywhere in its wake.

Martin Sibrits, of Rebel Sports, told Fairfax New Zealand the tornado was "simply unbelievable".

"It was huge. I could see pieces of iron flying through the air, 100 metres up," he said.

He said the neighbouring Placemakers hardware store had taken the biggest hit.

"That place is looking like a bomb site."

From his window he could see many cars in the parking lot had been damaged and several injured people were seeking help.

Gallery: Tornado hits New Zealand
Gallery: Tornado hits New Zealand

Ross Sims, of Mainline Music, told journalists he mistook the tornado for an aeroplane.

"I thought, 'geez that plane is low' but when I looked outside it was this giant big black cloud," he said.

Callers to NewstalkZB have reported absolute carnage around the Albany Mall with cars tossed on their tops and a large emergency service presence heading to or already at the mall.

Auckland's Harbour Bridge has been closed as Metservice weather officials warned the tornado was moving slowly towards the city centre.

Map of Auckland and surrounds
Map of Auckland and surrounds

New Zealand is hit by 20 tornado events each year but they are typically very narrow and short-lived.

The worst of them hit the North Island city of Hamilton in 1948, killing three people, injuring 80 others and destroyed more the 200 homes and businesses.

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