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  • Location: City of Gales, New Zealand, 150m ASL
  • Location: City of Gales, New Zealand, 150m ASL

    April 10th 1968, Cyclone Giselle moved south over NZ, causing much destruction along the way and apparently regenerating around 40S. It is most well known for causing the sinking of the Wahine, one of the largest ferries in the world at the time. It sank only a few hundred metres from the coastline of the capital city- Wellington.

    Mean wind speeds at Wellington harbour were 60mph, gusting to 90mph as the ferry approached. The highest ever wind gust recorded in NZ was 275kmh (170mph) in the city itself. Wellington is a city well used to winds and generally copes with them much better the UK. But this storm was unprecedented and destroyed homes.


    Interesting paper here:


    Claims that modern numerical models could not have predicted the 12m swell experienced in Wellington Harbour that day.


    Cyclone: Cyclone Giselle

    When: 10 April, 1968

    Where: New Zealand-wide

    What happened

    • The storm began to build in the Coral Sea near the Solomon Islands on 5 April, 1968. The cyclone was given the name Giselle by French meteorologists when it struck Noumea, capital of French Caledonia.
    • The next day storm warnings were issued throughout New Zealand, even though the cyclone was 3,000 kilometres away.
    • Early in the morning of 9 April, Cyclone Giselle hit Cape Reinga. Wind gusts of up to 160 kilometres an hour caused massive damage to houses and other buildings.
    • With the wind came torrential rain, flooding the farmlands of Northland, and drowning hundreds of farm animals.
    • A farmer was killed near Kaitaia when he was blown off a haystack.
    • The cyclone moved south, repeating the pattern of damage as it travelled across the North Island and down the East Coast.
    • Ships were driven ashore, and landslips closed roads. The torrents of rain caused massive flooding, and the wind left a wake of torn-off roofs and broken windows.
    • By the time Cyclone Giselle hit Wellington on the morning of 10 April, another storm had driven up the West Coast of the South Island from Antarctica. The two storms met over the capital city, causing huge amounts of damage and wrecking the inter-island ferry, the Wahine, with the loss of 51 lives.
    • The winds in Wellington were the strongest ever recorded by the New Zealand Meteorological Service. At one point they reached a speed of 275 kilometres an hour.
    • A young girl was killed and her sister injured when a piece of roofing iron crashed through their bedroom window.
    • An elderly man was blown over by the wind and died on the way to hospital. Other people were seriously injured in falls or by flying debris.
    • In the Wellington suburb of Kingston the roofs of 98 houses were ripped off by the wind, and three ambulances and a truck were blown onto their sides when they tried to go into the area to bring out injured people.
    • As the storm moved onto the South Island, in Christchurch hundreds of houses lost their roofs and both the Avon and the Heathcote rivers flooded.
    • Throughout Canterbury over 500 hectares of forest were destroyed.
    • In Southland the flooding was the worst since 1913. Some people were stranded on the roofs of their houses and had to be rescued by jet boat.


    I got out of the car with a bit of a struggle into the wind, but soon became aware of an unbelievably strong wind. The funnel effect of Kent Terrace made it worse as it blew towards the Basin Reserve. My thoughts immediately changed from walking across to the Wellington office, to survival and seeking shelter. But before I could find any shelter, the wind blew me out into the middle of the street, into the path of oncoming traffic which I and others in a similar situation hoped would stop for us. This was both dangerous and frightening.

    Some people were clinging to lamp posts; others sought the shelter of shop doorways. That’s where I headed when the wind dropped enough for me to regain some control of my direction. I huddled in a doorway with others, confident that we would all be safe, at least in the meantime. But then the shop’s huge plate glass window was completely blown out by the wind, and glass shattered everywhere on the footpath. I realised that it was not actually safe anywhere in the open, not even in an obvious shelter.

    I eventually made it back to the car and out to the Hutt. I didn’t deliver those papers and I didn’t visit any clients that day. We looked out the office windows to see sparking broken power lines and a Volkswagen car picked up off the ground by the wind, then dropped again.


    This link has a good summary of information, too much to copy and paste. You can see the storm caused major destruction through the north and the east of NZ. Those parts relevant to Wellington:

    The hurricane winds were the strongest ever recorded by the New Zealand Meteorological office. At one point they reached an incredible 275 kilometres per hour! The weather was vicious. A seven-year-old girl was killed and her sister seriously injured when iron from a nearby roof was blown through their bedroom window, and an elderly man was bowled over by the wind and died while being taken to hospital.

    More than eighty people were treated at hospitals for various injuries caused by the storm. One man was seriously injured when he was blown off a building he was helping build, and another when a garage collapsed on him. A woman was blown through a plate glass window in the city and the wink knocked over many people in the streets. Children were advised to stay home from school, but some who had left before the warning was given were pushed off their feet by the wind and bowled along the ground.

    The exposed Wellington hillside suburb of Kingston was one of the worst hit. Ninety eight houses lost their roofs and many others were damaged by flying tiles and airborne sheets of corrugated iron. Efforts to evacuate the area were made later in the morning but three ambulances and an army truck, which went in to help bring out the injured people, were all blown over on to their sides.

    The coastal suburb of Seatoun felt the full fury of the storm. At an army camp in the area more than twenty cars and vans were blown into a heap by the force of the wind. The roof of one house was peeled off and hurled through the window of its neighbour.

    Further around the coast, near Lyall Bay, an ambulance, two trucks, and several cars were blown on to the beach. Such was the force of the wind that paint was sandblasted off several cars.

    Other Wellington hillside suburbs, including Northland and Karori, were also badly battered by the storm with many windows being broken and roofs blown off. In some cases, even the walls were blown down, leaving terrified residents cowering in the basements. But, if being inside was risky, it was even more dangerous outside. Sheets of roofing iron flew through the air, and in some cases, embedded themselves in the walls of other houses!

    At Lowry Bay, on the eastern side of the Wellington harbour, a car collided with a boat that had been blown up on to the road. Several other small craft were swept from their moorings and their wreckage littered the edges of the harbour. In the Hutt Valley, the wind was less severe but there were serious flooding in Upper Hutt and a State of Civil Defence Emergency was declared.

    Wahine disaster described here also:



    If in 5 days theres a cyclone brewing in the tropics we will all be hoping history doesn't repeat itself!

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