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Polar blast brings rare snow to parts of New Zealand

(Xinhua)

13:14, August 15, 2011

Houses and car are covered with snow in the northern suburb of Wellington, capital of New Zealand, on Aug. 14. A heavy snowfall hit Wellington on Sunday. (Xinhua/Huang Xingwei)

WELLINGTON, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- An Antarctic cold wave has brought the first snow in 40 years to parts of New Zealand and could continue for a week, meteorologists said Monday.

The freak weather has closed roads and schools and caused power blackouts around the country.

Snow was reported falling in some Auckland suburbs and in the nearby Waitakere Ranges and Bombay Hills for the first time since the 1970s, according to Weather Watch.

The MetService said winds gusting up to 120 km per hour could hit Auckland from Monday.

Five people were taken to hospital in the city after a tree fell on one house injuring a family of four and an elderly man was blown over. None of them was reported to be seriously injured.

In the earthquake-battered second city of Christchurch, some flights were diverted to other cities because of the snow. The airport remained open, but airlines were advised to use their discretion on using it.

The capital, Wellington, was covered in snow and the MetService said the city could receive another 5 cm over the next 24 hours.

Civil Defence authorities urged residents to ensure they were prepared in the event that unseasonal snow kept them housebound.

"Really cold weather and heavy snowfalls across the region over the past day are forecast to continue until later this week," Wellington region Civil Defence manager Rian Van Schalkwyk said Monday.

"People should prepare for the worst, which means making sure they're ready in the event that they cannot leave home and may be without electricity and other amenities.

"Essentials for home preparedness include food and water stocks, essential medicines, candles and alternative means of heating food. People who rely on log burners or open fires for home heating should also check that they have enough stocks of fuel to keep them and their families warm."

Meteorologists warned the cold flow was expected to continue to bring snow and gales to many parts of the country on Tuesday, making driving very hazardous, especially on higher roads throughout the South Island and over parts of the North Island in coming days.

MetService head forecaster Peter Kreft said the polar blast was "a 50-year" event.

"It's a once-in-many-decades event. We are probably looking at something like, in terms of extent and severity, maybe 50 years," he said.

Strong, bitterly cold winds and snow are expected to affect many parts of the country and farmers were advised that stock might need shelter.

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