South Auckland tornado: Employer of worker killed during storm reveals heartache

Staff at an engineering firm where a worker was killed when a tornado ripped through a South Auckland freight yard are rallying around each other as they deal with the shock of losing one of their workmates.

It comes as truck drivers who were at Ports of Auckland site when the tornado struck remain in disbelief about the quick chaos that descended on site, shocking workers and sending large shipping containers flying through the air on Saturday morning.

Police have this afternoon officially named Janesh Prasad as the 41-year-old who died in Wiri at the weekend. His death has been referred to the Coroner.

Prasad, who moved to New Zealand from Fiji six years ago, was a mechanic for Henderson-based Stellar Engineering and had been repairing a forklift at the Ports of Auckland Freight Hub when the tornado hit.

It is understood the father-of-two was killed after being thrown at a distance and hitting a solid object.

Prasad’s boss, Stellar Engineering managing director Paul Tregonning, told the Herald they had a “close strong team” that were all pulling together and supporting each other.

“We’ve got a tight team, that helps a lot.”

Tregonning did not want to go into too much detail including how many other staff members had been at the freight yard at the time, saying “it was all a bit raw”.

Tregonning said the company was doing all it could for Prasad’s wife and two daughters and would continue to offer that support.

“We are in full support of helping them in any way we can,” he said.

“There’s a great culture in the company so we are pretty blessed with that.”

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison said he had spoken to several workers who were onsite at the time and who were in disbelief over how quickly the tornado hit and “how fast it went from calm to chaos and then back to calm again”.

“It just happened that quickly and it was throwing a lot of the containers around,” he said.

“One of them said it was like a bomb had gone off. That’s the way he described it, and I suppose that’s all the containers starting to hit the deck and crash and get flung around.”

Harrison said some of the containers were pushed up and over including a tank container which weighed about five-and-a-half tonnes empty.

“So the forces are pretty immense.”

Two of the workers he had spoken to were having a cup of tea in the portacom and thought they were going to be swept away.

“They thought the smoko room was going to go as well. It was shaking that bad.”

While no one was traumatised by it, he knew of at least two workers – including one who knew the mechanic – who had taken a few days off to recover.

In the meantime truck drivers had been redirected from the Wiri site and were picking up directly from the port, he said.

“They think it is going to take a good week to tidy it all up. It’s like matchsticks everywhere.”

It was also lucky it was in the weekend because there would have been a lot more at the site during the week, he said.

A Givealittle page setup to support Prasad’s family as they prepare for his funeral at the Auckland Indian Funeral Home in Wiri on Wednesday has already reached $40,000.

The funds raised would help his family maintain a normal life as possible as Prasad has been the family’s sole earner.

The two other injured workers – one who was believed to be driving a truck at the time – were not Stellar Engineering employees.

Both people were transported to Middlemore Hospital after the tornado, but a Counties Manukau District Health Board spokesperson confirmed one was discharged on Saturday and the other was discharged yesterday.

• People can donate on this Givealittle page.

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