Chopper visits snow-stranded farmers

TRAPPED: Volunteers are helping farmers to reach their isolated stock.
TRAPPED: Volunteers are helping farmers to reach their isolated stock.

Civil Defence authorities sent a helicopter into Central Otago today to check on families who have been isolated for four days by heavy snow.

The helicopter attempted to land at all farms in the Moonlight/Nenthorn area, where families still have no road access.

Waitaki District Council emergency manager Chris Raine said Civil Defence was taking a "people-first approach" and was working in close co-operation with the Otago Rural Support Trust, which was organising a volunteer operation to help farmers reach and feed livestock stranded by snow.

Raine said emails from some affected farmers advised they were coping but their main concerns were fuel shortages, getting feed to livestock buried in snow, opening up road access and the threat of freezing temperatures forecast tonight.

The helicopter also made contact with two families cut off by floodwaters that destroyed the approaches to one bridge and demolished another on either side of Danseys Pass last week.

Raine said it would take road workers all day to open up road access to the Moonlight area and longer to open up other roads in the region.

The Otago Rural Support Trust had a strong response to a call on Sunday night for volunteers to help farmers snow-raking to reach isolated stock and move them on to safer sites where they could get feed to them.

Trust co-ordinator David Mellish said he had 50 responses from people offering to help from all over the country.

They included farmers from Canterbury who wanted to return the favour of people who had helped them out during the Christchurch earthquakes.

Other offers came from the North Island, the West Coast and from Otago farmers and their sons keen to help others worse off than them.

"We're aware farmers in other areas have organised their own volunteers and some volunteers who rang farmers direct and are doing some amazing work," Mellish said.

While farmers were well prepared for snow, he said it was the scale of the snowfall with a metre of snow falling above 500 metres of altitude.

"It's the depth of snow that's caught farmers out," he said.

"Even with really good machinery it's really difficult to get around in a metre of snow."

The trust's main concerns are focussed on three areas, the Danseys Pass and Naseby district on the southern side of the Kakanui Range, Clarks Junction and Lee Stream inland from Outram and the Macraes, Nenthorn and Moonlight region between Dunback and Middlemarch.

Mellish said road crews had opened up tractor access to most areas and the Moonlight Road was expected to open today.

The trust was still taking names of snow-raking volunteers and had helicopter operators from Canterbury and Southland on stand-by if required.

The main concern of farmers and rescuers working in Otago hill country was the likelihood of frosts overnight which could compound their problems reaching stock in the days ahead.

The Press