That's the holiday gone west

Last updated 05:00 03/01/2013

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Wild and wet weather has caused chaos in many parts of New Zealand, particularly the South Island, with a steady deluge stranding holidaymakers and knocking out key services.

Several days of heavy rain compounded yesterday, with the West Coast and Fiordland bearing the brunt of the storm.

Rising river levels claimed the Wanganui River bridge near Harihari, with flooding washing out one end of the bridge and forcing the closure of State Highway 6, the main road along the West Coast.

Motorists heading north were forced take lengthy detours - of up to 400km to reach Christchurch via Wanaka.

The washout severed a key fibre-optic cable, cutting most methods of communication between about 1000 Westland homes and the rest of the country.

Snap chief executive Mark Petrie said the outage had also prevented residents from making calls to 111, although a technician with a satellite phone was monitoring the phone exchange to ensure emergency calls were put through.

Telecom spokeswoman Kate Woodruffe said cell towers at Fox Glacier, Franz Josef and Mt Hercules had been damaged by the storm.

With access into the towns blocked, technicians would have to wait until it was safe to be helicoptered in to assess and repair the damage.

A slip last night blocked State Highway 6 between Inangahua and Westport in the lower Buller Gorge, while flooding also closed sections of State Highway 73 from Cass through Arthur's Pass to Otira.

A fire service spokesman said a rescue crew was in the national park checking on tourists and locals to ensure they were safe.

Crews in Harihari and Whataroa had also checked on residents in the two West Coast towns, while the fire service had attended about five calls in Hokitika for flooding and helped move people's property to higher ground.

Police called for the evacuation of huts and low-lying areas around the Rakaia River, with flooding making the river "extremely dangerous".

Environment Canterbury South Canterbury duty flood controller Tony Henderson said both the Waitaki and Rangitata rivers had risen about 500mm during 48 hours.

The Rangitata went from an average of less than 100 cubic metres (cumecs) per second flow to 1800 cumecs in less than 18 hours.

Mr Henderson expected the river levels to drop as the weather system moved north later today.

More than 100 trampers stranded on the Milford Track managed to resume their walks yesterday, after riding out the weather in Department of Conservation huts.

MetService duty forecaster Alistair Gorman said 440 millimetres of rain had fallen in Milford Sound over the past two days, with parts of the West Coast recording totals of up to 500mm. The weather was expected to ease today.

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- Fairfax Media

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