Tornado Strikes Auckland Container Depot, Killing One

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Published Jun 21, 2021 2:35 AM by The Maritime Executive

A tornado struck a container storage yard at the Ports of Auckland, New Zealand on Friday, killing one worker and injuring two others.

The deceased was a contractor for the port, not an employee, and it is understood that the fatality was not a crushing accident from toppling containers.

"I understand that the person's fatal injuries were caused literally by the person being thrown at a distance and hitting a solid object," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told media. "I've talked to Ports of Auckland, they said that the force of the wind was so strong that 30 tonne containers were being picked up and blown about in the air . . . It's really sad and our thoughts are with all of those that worked with and were family to and friends of the person that was killed."

Fijian media have identified the deceased as Janesh Prasad, 41, a forklift mechanic and a Fijian national. The two other victims sustained non-life-threatening injuries and have been provided with treatment. 

"The tornado caused significant damage to the site and dislodged multiple containers," the port authority said in a statement. "We are shocked by this freak event and our thoughts are with the people affected."

The damage at the container hub is considerable and will take time to repair, said operator Nexus in a statement. "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," said CEO Darcy Hart. 

In addition to the container hub, the tornado struck a nearby suburban residential district, causing extensive property damage. About 60 homes were badly damaged, according to local outlet Stuff. The cost of repairs could run into the tens of millions of dollars, Goff said.

Challenges at the port

It was a challenging end to a difficult week for the port. On Thursday, one of Ports of Auckland's automated straddle carriers ran a container into a stack of boxes. The incident caused no injuries, but until the cause has been identified and corrected, the port will "temporarily expand manual operations at the container terminal and reduce the scale of automated operations." 

The port said that it 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," the port said in a statement. "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 harbor."