Tuesday, 2 July 2013

It was just a bit windy

We had a storm a week or so ago. Ask anyone who lives in New Zealand what they think of Wellington, and they'll say it's windy. Always blowing a gale. True, we do get big winds. But they don't normally last too long or do much damage - and actually, ours is a pretty awesome little city. Built on the hills around a very picturesque harbour. You can't beat Wellington on a good day.

My Dad used to joke when we experienced our first southerly storm after moving to Wellington, that the first settlers must have been blown into the harbour in a storm and not been able to get out. Why else would they settle here ? And then we discovered two branches of HIS family had been amongst those early settlers. One ship was even blown back out to sea so far they could no longer see land, to ride out a storm before they tried again to gain entry to the harbour. Early Governors of the new colony described the harbour to have "treacherous and violent" winds. Mariners treated them with respect, some even relishing the challenge of navigating their ship through the narrow entrance in high winds. A little like pilots today, who manage aircraft in often strong, variable crosswinds as they land at our airport.

When we do get a real storm, often they are real doozies. Like the one that blew through town June 20 & 21, 2013. They compared this one to the Wahine Storm of April 10, 1968. The one where the inter-island ferry Wahine hit the reef entering the harbour, and eventually founded off Worser Bay. Wind gusts of up to 120 miles per hour (198 kph) were recorded, people were told to stay home. But as word got out (there was a lot of disbelief) about the ferry sinking, locals took to their runabouts and fishing boats and set to helping the tug boats and police rescue passengers.It was the worst maritime disaster in modern time. What spirit was shown by Wellingtonians that day. And despite initial fears, just 51 lives were lost.

The Canberra Times (ACT 1926 - 1995) Thursday 11 April 1968 page 1 article107046299-3-001

This latest storm was gnarly. Wind gusts up to 200kph - stronger than 1968, power outages, airport closures, rail lines breached, road closed and commuter chaos. It was the first time I really felt like I might lose a window (floor to ceiling southerly facing wall of glass in my lounge) I'm glad it was dark and I couldn't see it flexing behind the blinds. It was like a freight train hitting the house, continuously. Don't go out if you don't have to, the authorities said. We were expecting wind and rain - but nothing like what we got.

Still, the next morning with the winds dropping ever so slightly the city began to pick itself up. People surveyed the damage (half a fence and a tree at my place) after a sleepless night. Friends lost trampolines, garden sheds, rooves etc tossed about like toys in the night. The house next door lost all of the protective tarpaulin covering the repair work - revealing the bare bones of the building for all to see. It was still cold, and windy - but at least you could stand up and not get blown off your feet - and rainy, but the worst seemed to be over. Many households were without power some even until the end of last week. Trees did the most damage falling across roads, on cars and houses, and the waves  pounded the south coast damaging toads and the sea wall and tossing debris (and the occasional fish) metres into front yards and across the road. 

There is true SPIRIT amongst Wellingtonians. "Its just wind", "What an amazing storm". We just picked ourselves up and got on with life. The power outages were fixed, the trees cleared and roads reopened, the seawall reconstructed and the rail line repaired, airport open and ferry sailings resumed. Open for business again, within days and at most a week.

Hurricane Sandy bought the eastern states to a standstill last year with winds not even as strong as our little southerly. But its all about attitude - we're a hardy lot. I think we are secretly a city full of crazy storm chasers - we love it, even if at the time it does mess up your hair and the garden.

This post forms part of Trove Tuesday as suggested by Amy, from Branches, Leaves & Pollen.