Tornado hits Auckland container depot, one fatality

A tornado hit a container storage yard at the Port of Auckland, New Zealand on Friday June 18th, killing a contractor for the port and injuring two others.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that he had talked to Ports of Auckland and that they had said that the force of the wind was so strong that 30 tonne containers were being picked up and blown about in the air. The fatality was said to have been caused by the person concerned being picked up by the tornado and thrown against a solid object.

Fijian media have identified the deceased as Janesh Prasad, 41, a forklift mechanic and a Fijian national.

The port authority said that the tornado, termed a “freak event”, caused significant damage to the site and dislodged multiple containers.

Operator Nexus said that the damage at the container hub was “considerable” and that it would take some time to repair. CEO Darcy Hart said that “we estimate around 400 containers have sustained damage to some degree. Jointly, our management team along with Ward Demolition and WorkSafe have agreed upon a recovery plan. We have moved four heavy lift cranes onto site and they are now in the process of salvaging damaged containers and restoring our container stacks back to some form of safe organised stability”.

The tornado followed an unrelated incident earlier in the week when on June 17th one of Ports of Auckland’s automated straddle carriers ran a container into a stack of boxes. Although the incident caused no injuries, until the cause of the incident was identified and corrected the port would “temporarily expand manual operations at the container terminal and reduce the scale of automated operations.”

The port said that the incident was caused by a software fault and that no people were at risk. “At this stage we do not know how long it will take to make the necessary changes and we are working with our overseas suppliers to get them in place as soon as possible. We are committed to completing automation. Automation is important for the future, to provide the capacity Auckland needs for its continuing growth without the need to reclaim more harbour”, the port stated.