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

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

A Te Puke family is distraught after a “tornado” ripped through their farm, killing and scattering animals, destroying horticulture structures and ripping panels off their home.

“I haven’t slept,” Kat French told the Bay of Plenty Times today. “We have been crying 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 was woken around midnight by the noise of “everything crashing around us” as panels were torn off the exterior of their farmhouse.

The family, still in their pajamas, went outside into the darkness with torches to assess the damage and were left picking up the pieces of “completely destroyed” fruit and vegetable houses and rescuing the animals that had survived the storm.

When daylight hit, Kat posted photos of the damage to the French farm’s Facebook page, writing: “Unfortunately we had a tornado go thru our lil farm at midnight last night. This is the result this morning we have a lot of cleaning and repair work please be patient with us as we do our best to still deliver your production and if anyone has some spare time and could help it would be greatly appreciated many thanks from the team at french’s farm”[SIC].

By midday, dozens of people had turned up to help with the clean-up.

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

Total strangers who don’t know us have messaged the page wanting to help. Half a dozen vehicles turned up in the morning.”

The damage after a 'tornado' ripped through the French's Farm overnight.  Photos/Supplied
The damage after a ‘tornado’ ripped through the French’s Farm overnight. Photos/Supplied

A couple who knew French Farm from the vegetables they supplied to the Pāpāmoa Markets were there all morning helping pick up the pieces, “pruning fig trees that are broken, moving the heavy stuff”, Kat said.

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

Kat said that was now “all gone”.

Four chook houses were “floored”, six tunnel houses where they grew their fruits and vegetables were “beyond repair” and her parents’ tropical fruit houses – where they grew mangos, pineapples, and pawpaw – were “completely destroyed”.

“I’ve lost six rabbits and guinea pigs after their hutches were blown away, we have been picking up dead birds at the bottom of our aviary, some of my chooks are dead.

“It has been pretty hard.”

Kat said it had cost the farm “a lot”.

Along with their animals, they had lost about six plastic fruit and vegetable houses that had cost “about $800 a pop”.

“We have lost them all,” she said.

Mum lost a whole watermelon crop. It is all underwater. There are fruit trees without fruit on them. It is all gone.”

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

“We have to keep going.”

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

We have met them before. They sell veggies at the Pāpāmoa Markets.

“It is soul-destroying. We would have been in tears if it happened to us. We just had to help.”

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

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

Between 1pm Tuesday and 1pm on Wednesday, Tauranga had 37.7mm of rain, with 14mm falling in one hour alone.

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

Law said there had not been any reports of tornadoes, however, windy conditions overnight were reported to be in excess of 80km/h in Tauranga and Whakatane.

Slip on Stanley Road in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.  Photo/Supplied
Slip on Stanley Road in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Photo/Supplied

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

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

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

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

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

Contractors had worked to clear those roads.

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

The crash involved three vehicles and was the result of a tree blocking three-quarters of a road. No injuries were reported, however, and the road was cleared by early morning.

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

More unsettled weather to come

The unsettled weather is set to continue this week; according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and weather authority MetService.

Who’s ready for this unsettled weather to end? Well, Mother Nature isn’t,” Niwa said on its social media sites.

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

MetService meteorologist John Law said the weather in the Bay of Plenty would continue to be “pretty unsettled” on 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 an odd afternoon shower predicted.