‘Tornado’ hits a farm in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty, killing animals and destroying fruit and vegetable sheds

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Robyn and Michael French in front of the damaged tropical house when a tornado swept through their property. Photo/Stuart Whitaker

A Te Puke family is distraught after a ‘tornado’ tore through their farm, killing and scattering animals, destroying horticultural structures and ripping panels off their home.

“I haven’t slept,” Kat French told the Bay of Plenty Hours today. “We cried all morning.

Kat and her parents, Michael and Robyn French, lost chickens, rabbits and fruit and vegetable houses after what they believed to be a tornado touched down amid thunderstorms and heavy rain overnight .

Kat said the family were woken around midnight by the sound of “everything crashing around us” as signs were torn down outside their farmhouse.

The family, still in their pajamas, came out in the dark with torches to assess the damage and were left to pick up the pieces of “completely destroyed” fruit and vegetable houses and save the animals that had survived the storm.

When daylight arrived, Kat posted photos of the damage to the French farmhouse’s Facebook page, writing: ‘Unfortunately a tornado passed through our little farmhouse at midnight last night. This is the result this morning, we have a lot of cleanup and repair work to do, please be patient with us as we try our best to keep delivering your products and if anyone has any spare time and could help, that would be greatly appreciated thank you very much from the team at the french farm”[SIC].

By noon, dozens of people had come to help clean up.

“The support has been absolutely amazing,” Kat said.

“Complete strangers who don’t know us messaged the page to help us. Half a dozen vehicles arrived in the morning.

The damage after a "tornado" tore up the French farm during the night.  Photos / Provided
Damage after a ‘tornado’ ravaged the French farm overnight. Photos / Provided

A couple who knew French Farm from the vegetables they supplied to markets in Pāpāmoa were there all morning to help pick up the pieces, “prune the fig trees that are broken, move the heavy stuff,” Kat said.

The family lived together on the farm and have been operating for three years, growing and selling spray-free fruits and vegetables and free-range eggs to the community. They also house rescue animals including rabbits and guinea pigs on their farm.

Kat said it was now “it’s all gone”.

Four chook houses were ‘grounded’, six tunnel houses where they grew their fruits and vegetables were ‘irreparable’ and his parents’ tropical fruit houses – where they grew mangoes, pineapples and papayas – were destroyed. “completely destroyed”.

“I lost six rabbits and guinea pigs after their hutches were blown away, we picked up dead birds from the bottom of our aviary, some of my bait died.

“It was quite difficult.”

Kat said it cost the farm “a lot”.

In addition to their animals, they had lost about six plastic fruit and vegetable houses that had cost “about $800 each”.

“We lost them all,” she said.

“Mom lost a whole crop of watermelons. Everything is under water. There are fruit trees with no fruit on them. It’s all gone.

But without insurance and with bills to pay, Kat said, “we can’t afford to stop.”

“We must continue.”

A Te Puke producer, who would only be referred to by his first name, Gregg, said he called Kat as soon as he read about the damage on Facebook.

“We have already met them. They sell vegetables in the markets of Pāpāmoa.

“It’s soul destroying. We would have been in tears if this had happened to us. We just had to help.

MetService meteorologist John Law said there were “very heavy showers and thunderstorms” in the Bay of Plenty last night.

Law said heavy rain was considered more than 6mm of rain per hour.

Between 1 p.m. Tuesday and 1 p.m. Wednesday, Tauranga received 37.7mm of rain, including 14mm in a single hour.

In Whakatāne, 42.4 mm of rain fell, including 17 mm in one hour.

Law said there were no reports of tornadoes, however, windy conditions overnight reportedly exceeded 80 km/h in Tauranga and Whakatāne.

Glide down Stanley Road in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.  Photo / Provided
Glide down Stanley Road in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Photo / Provided

The heavy downpours prompted various calls for weather-related incidents in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty areas, in particular, with the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency issuing early morning warnings urging motorists to take care.

State Highway 29 Tauranga in Te Poi (Kaimai Ranges) had a road hazard warning due to a landslide near McLaren Falls Rd, no detour available.

SH25 Thames to Thornton Bay was closed between Rennie St and Ngārimu Heights Row, north of Thames.

Stanley Rd in the east Bay of Plenty was temporarily closed at the Tāneatua and Wainui ends due to two slips.

Police said several rivers across the Bay of Plenty district reached flood warning levels early Wednesday morning – at 7am – and there were reports of trees falling on some number of roads and highways.

Contractors had worked to clear these roads.

A police spokesman said there was also a reported crash overnight which appeared to be the result of bad weather.

The accident involved three vehicles and was caused by a tree blocking three quarters of a road. However, no injuries were reported and the road was cleared early in the morning.

Many of the major severe weather warnings issued Tuesday were lifted overnight or early Wednesday morning.

More unstable times ahead

The unstable weather is expected to continue this week; according to the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research and meteorological authority MetService.

“Who is ready for this unstable time to end? Well Mother Nature is not,” Niwa said on her social media sites.

“While there are pockets of dry weather, large parts of the country will likely have rain in the forecast for the next few days.”

MetService meteorologist John Law said the weather in the Bay of Plenty would continue to be “quite choppy” Thursday and Friday due to westerly winds.

Thursday would be another day of showers with possible thunderstorms and hail. Showers would continue on Friday, he said.

Most of Saturday would be fine, with a weird afternoon shower expected.

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