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Winter Storm Batters Central New Zealand

August 18, 2004

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ A powerful winter storm battered central New Zealand Wednesday, blocking key highways and railroads with snow and debris and halting plane and sea ferry service to the capital, authorities said.

Winds gusts of more than 100 mph tore roofs from buildings and downed numerous trees and electric lines, said police spokesman Sgt. Andre Kowalczyk.

Authorities urged central New Zealanders to avoid all unnecessary travel. Many organizations and businesses reported workers were absent. No injuries were reported.

The wild weather stripped part of the roof from Wellington’s main airport terminal building, blowing debris across the closed runway.

Across southern North Island, heavy snow closed scores of highways and smaller roads, cutting access to some rural areas.

The storm brought heavy rains to other regions. A farming area north of the capital was placed on flood alert after eight inches fell, swelling four rivers.

Weather forecaster Augie Auer said the storm had virtually stalled off the country’s east coast, and it would ``be a long slow clearance ... with the very strong winds easing only slowly during the day.″

MetService forecaster Marie Grey said at Mt. Kaukau near the city had gusted up to 111 miles mph.

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