Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cyclone Giselle: 42 years on

Cyclone: Cyclone Giselle

10 April, 1968, 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.
  • Cyclone Giselle finally blew out somewhere in the Southern Ocean.
  • It was the worst storm recorded in New Zealand's history, as well as being the storm that sunk the Wahine.

How many died?

3 (in addition to the 51 dead in the Wahine disaster)

Forever etched in our nation's memories.

I personally remember as an almost 13 year old being told by my now long-departed mother that she travelled from Auckland on the overnight rattler for her stepfather's funeral arriving in Wellington early on that fateful morning. A typical Wellington grey and windy stormy morning that she was well used to having lived in Petone and Island Bay in younger days. And as she got off the overnight train after a very rough ride down the country, being an ex-nurse, she immediately noticed the temporary morgue one platform over and wondered what was happening.

Unbekown to her and other passengers, Cyclone Giselle had already wreaked its vengeance that morning and tragic events were unfolding into The Wahine Disaster as Wellington woke up 42 years ago today.

ps. I had only travelled southward on that same ship barely three months earlier on a South Island school trip.


Keeping Stock said...

Excellent piece PM - just a freak weather event; the collision of two weather systems. Today it would doubtless be blamed on AGW or something similar. In 1968 we were more accepting; it just happened.

Danielle said...

Unfortunately I didn't know about this cyclone at the time. I have a daughter Giselle who was born in 1968. She is an amazing person who is going to celebrate her 45th birthday tomorrow! 19/09/2013