Tornado cuts through Cambridge (+pics)
By NICOLA BRENNAN - Waikato Times | Friday, 17 October 2008

Residents of a Cambridge rest home had to be evacuated and firemen dived for their lives after a tornado ripped through the town this morning, leaving a trail of roofless homes and downed trees.

Emergency services received more than 30 phone calls between 3-3.30am as more than 100 houses in the tornado's west to east path across Cambridge and Leamington suffered lost or damaged roofs, while trees and power lines were left sprawled on the ground and many cars were damaged.

An 80-year-old old oak tree, on the corner of Carlyle and Browning Streets, was uprooted as the tornado hit the area around Gwyneth Common.

Oakdale Rest Home on the corner of Tennyson and Browning St was one of the worst hit sites.

Caregivers Tracey Espin and Charlene Colvin were on duty at the time. "We were just sitting there listening to the rain when I heard what sounded like a train or truck rumbling," Ms Espin said.

"I looked out the window and it looked like the whole park was coming straight towards the rest home." The gust ripped off a section of roof and water started pouring through several manholes.

"We were just trying to get the residents out," Ms Colvin said.

"They found it quite exciting." George Turner was one of 16 residents evacuated from rooms on the west wing. "I got up and saw all this water on the floor. I had to paddle out," the 89-year-old said.

Some 100m across the park Tony Mills was working in his home office when he heard a sound like a 747. The tornado lifted half the roof off his house and threw bits of iron across the park. "I heard a sound and thought it was just thunder," he said.

"I looked out the window and everything was going sideways. Then I saw the tree smash and everything came towards me, so I dived under the desk." Water dripped constantly from the ceiling as Mr Mills showed the Waikato Times the damage caused.

Firemen attending one of the tornado damaged homes in Leamington had a lucky escape when the owner noticed the roof buckling under the weight of heavy rain.

Waipa mayor Alan Livingston said the owner yelled at the firemen to retreat just before the ceiling came crashing in.

Mr Livingston estimated a repair bill for the town esculating into hundreds of thousands and said thankfully no-one was hurt.

"It's an absolute mess. It's incredibly fortunate no-one was injured. There's a large amount of debris and corrugated iron around so if anyone had of been outside it would have been a different story." Cambridge chief fire officer Don Gerrand said nobody was injured but about 20 volunteer officers had attended the callout.

Ironically, Civil Defence, the Fire Service and St John were planning an "Are you prepared" expo in the Cambridge Town Hall for today and tomorrow.

It is still going ahead.

Waipa Networks chief executive Ray Milner said supply was lost to Leamington and central Cambridge for a short time. About 120 properties, mostly bordering Hamilton Rd, were still without power at 8am this morning, Waipa Networks had 12 staff out overnight, including arborists clearing trees.

"Trees were ripped apart and thrown all over the place," Mr Milner said.

"The clean-up will take some time."

Meanwhile Mr Gerrand said the tornado was gone within five minutes, but it left firefighters astounded at the damage.

"One resident had a budgie aviary and it is no longer there - or the budgies. It is not even on his section," he said.

Damage was mostly to iron roofs with sheets of long run iron ripped off.

"There is (roofing) iron hanging out of trees, power lines, all over the place." He said heavier concrete tile roofs seem to have mostly been left intact.

From here plus photos.