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New Zealand Tornado: Twister In Country's Largest City, Auckland, Kills At Least 1

New Zealand Tornado

05/ 3/11 01:33 AM ET   AP

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A tornado ripped across part of New Zealand's largest city on Tuesday, upturning cars and sending debris slicing through the air, witnesses and news reports said. At least one person was killed and about 20 injured, a hospital official said.

The swirling dark-gray column of air and cloud cut a 3-mile (5-kilometer) path across the Auckland suburb of Albany at mid afternoon, tearing off roofing iron, flattening trees and tossing vehicles around, police and witnesses said.

"There were kids in a car which turned upside down and they had to get help," said Hamish Blair, whose golf supplies store was in the hardest-hit area. "There's probably six or seven seriously damaged cars, and I saw cars flying off the ground about 30 meters (100 feet) in the air."

The tornado first touched down in Albany and then passed through neighboring Birkenhead. Most of the serious damage was in Albany, where a shopping mall, a large hardware store and a supermarket were hit. Radio New Zealand reported that the roof of the Mega Center mall in Albany collapsed.

Paul Patton, a spokesman for North Shore Hospital, said one person had been killed and at least 20 injured.

Tornados are not uncommon in New Zealand, particularly on the country's North Island, where Auckland lies. But they tend to be smaller than those seen in the U.S. Midwest. Auckland generally gets one or two tornadoes a year, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management.

New Zealand has been hit by several disasters in recent months, including a Feb. 22 earthquake that devastated the South Island city of Christchurch and killed at least 169 people.

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Filed by Adam Goldberg  |