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Gale winds, snow slam into New Zealand

Gale force winds cut power to New Zealand’s biggest city on Monday, while heavy snow from a cold snap collapsed roofs and blanketed much of the country’s south.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gale force winds battering northern New Zealand cut power to the nation’s biggest city on Monday, while heavy snow from a cold snap collapsed roofs and blanketed much of the country’s south.

Officials said the electricity outage had cut supplies to half of Auckland’s 1.3 million residents, as police activated an emergency management plan to secure the city area. The city’s airport was open, but operating on local generator power, Sky News reported.

Weather forecasters warned winds of up to 75 miles per hour could continue to buffet the area overnight.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the power failure, caused when an electrical supply line snapped, “has caused tremendous disruption to life in the city in every respect.”

Transpower spokesman Chris Roberts said a broken wire had fallen across a line, affecting eight other power supply lines to the city.

Clark demanded answers from officials for “why so much of Auckland is dependent on that single line.”

By nightfall some thousands of households were still without power, officials said.

Manufacturers in Auckland said the power outage had already cost business an estimated $44 million and must be fully investigated to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Roberts said the disruption was “very regrettable,” adding that providing greater security for the city’s electricity supply system “could take years and years and years” to build and install.

On South Island, power supplies, roads, airports, water supplies and bus and mail services were disrupted in many towns as heavy snow and rain swept through.

“We’ve had roofs actually collapsing because of the weight of snow, pitched roofs, it’s incredible,” said Mayor Janie Annear of the town of Timaru on the island’s east coast. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Annear told National Radio that she didn’t know how much snow had fallen, but it was “enough to cause reasonably modern structures to collapse.”

Earlier, forecasters said up to 6 inches of snow had blanketed much of South Island.

Roberts said some 50 power blackouts Sunday night meant some towns and many rural areas would be without electricity until at least Tuesday.

“This has already been called the ’big snow’ of 2006 — it’s a real freak of nature,” Annear said.