By midnight the storm had struck Auckland. Many houses lost their roofs, trees were blown over, and roads were blocked by slips. At one building site in the city, a slip left a building teetering on the brink of a ten-metre precipice. Off the coast, the 195 ton 'pirate' radio ship 'Tiri II', which was anchored near Great Barrier Island, was driven ashore by the storm and badly damaged.
On the Coromandel Peninsula, two fishing boats were cast ashore at Whitianga and further out to sea, the 5,423 ton Japanese ship 'Masa Maru' was forced to seek shelter when heavy seas caused her cargo of logs to shift, leaving the ship listing dangerously. By 3 am Cyclone Giselle had battered her way down to the Bay of Plenty.
At Whakatane, two fishing boats were wrecked at the wharf and huge waves broke a sea wall and washed a stack of logs across the road. The children's ward at the hospital had half its roof ripped away and homes in the town also lost their roofs. In rural areas, huge seas were driven inland, flooding many hectares of coastal farmland. Hundreds of cattle and sheep were drowned and many farm buildings were flattened.
At Opotiki, the steeple was blown off St. Mary's Church, and fishing boats were driven ashore. One ended up in a farmer's paddock and another in the middle of a road. The schools at Te Kaha and Maraenui were badly damaged and it was fortunate that they were not occupied at the time.
Giselle wasn't any kinder in Hawke's Bay. Houses lost their roofs, farm buildings were flattened and roads and railway lines were blocked by slips and fallen trees. A number of families had to be evacuated from their homes due to flooding, and throughout the region thousands of bushels of fruit were torn from trees and had to be left to rot on the ground.
In Napier, one house was torn in two by the force of the wind, while several others lost their roofs, and along the city's Marine Parade many houses had windows blown in.
The Manawatu region was the next to suffer Cyclone Giselle's fury. Trees in several plantations were completely flattened, farm buildings were damaged and hundreds of sheep, vulnerable after recent shearing, died of exposure. Near Levin, a car was blown off the road and all three occupants were seriously injured.
By 9am the storm had reached the Wairarapa causing damage both to towns and rural areas alike. In Masterton, a man was seriously cut by glass from a plate glass window that was shattered by the wind. In the nearby district of Carterton, a farmer was seriously injured when he was struck by a branch ripped off a nearby tree by the raging wind.
In Wellington, Giselle collided with another storm blowing up from the south and formed the most violent storm the 'Windy City' had ever experienced. Apart from the loss of the 'Wahine', which will be described later, many people were injured and an enormous amount of damage was done.
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.
During the afternoon, the storm swept onto the South Island. There was flooding and wind damage near Blenheim and, by 6pm, Christchurch was being hit almost as violently as Wellington had been. Hundreds of houses in hillside suburbs had their roofs blown off or suffered other wind damage while, on the flat, hundreds more were flooded when the Heathcote and Avon rivers broke their banks.
There was also considerable damage and stock losses in country districts. Thousands of sheep were drowned or died of exposure and, at Leeston 10,000 fowls were drowned when floodwaters swamped their runs. Glasshouses were destroyed, forests flattened, orchards stripped, and market gardens were flooded.
Southland was the last region of New Zealand to feel the lash of Cyclone Giselle. It caused the worst flooding there since 1913. Wyndam had to be evacuated and some people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses by jetboats. Hundreds more people had to be evacuated from Gore and Mataura, and damage and stock losses in country districts were severe.
Finally, Cyclone Giselle left New Zealand to blow itself out somewhere in the southern ocean, leaving behind tremendous devastation and the memory of the worst storm in New Zealand's recorded history.
The worst storm In New Zealand's recorded history before Cyclone Giselle was the Great Storm of 1936. As was the case with Cyclone Giselle, it did not occur in mid-winter but, in summer on the weekend of February 1st and 2nd, after New Zealand had been enjoying some of its finest weather.
The other remarkable similarity between the two storms is that, once again, one of the inter-island ferries was threatened with destruction. In 1936, the 'Rangitira', a five-year-old vessel of 6,152 tonnes, struck a submerged rock on Barrett Reef near the mouth of Wellington harbour.
Her 693 passengers were ordered to put on their lifebelts and assemble on deck while the crew fought to save the ship. The engines were placed in reverse and, after half an hour, she managed to pull herself free, but many of her forward compartments were flooded. It was decided that it was safer for the ship to travel stern-first, and slowly she began to reverse her way up the harbour. It took almost three hours for her to reach her berth. After what seemed to be an eternity to passengers and crew, the Rangitira arrived safely at her berth and a disaster similar to that which struck the 'Wahine' in 1968 was narrowly avoided.
As with Cyclone Giselle, as the Great Storm of 1936 lashed the North Island it did great damage. In Whangarei, almost 300 millimetres of rain fell in less than 24 hours and vast areas of the Northland Peninsular were flooded. In Auckland, many houses lost their roofs, trees were uprooted, roads blocked, and small craft destroyed in the harbour. Large areas of rural land in the North Island were lashed by tremendous winds and flooded by torrential rain. Hundreds of cattle and sheep were drowned and many orchards were completely destroyed.
Ten people lost their lives in the Great Storm of 1936 but, fortunately, unlike Cyclone Giselle, the Great Storm did not continue its path of destruction down the South Island but veered away to the south-east after causing great devastation in the north.