Roads closed as dreadful weather sets in
MICHAEL DALY AND TIM DONOGHUE
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Heavy rain has brought slips down on Arthur's and Haast passes, forcing their closure, as MetService warns of severe gales of up to 150kmh and downpours elsewhere.
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Arthur's Pass has been closed because of a massive slip and is expected to remain closed for two or three days.
The NZ Transport Agency's Senior Network Manager Mark Pinner said a significant amount of rock and material was brought down on the highway by heavy rain over the past 24 hours.
State Highway 73, from Arthur's Pass to Otira, is closed.
"As the rock and material are still falling onto the highway, our contractors are unable to get to the slip to begin clearing it," Pinner said.
Motorists should take SH 7 through Lewis Pass instead.
SH 6 through Haast Pass, from Haast to Makarora, remains closed today. Over 120 millimetres of rain fell in the area overnight, bringing rocks and trees onto the Diana Falls slip site.
EXTRA-LONG SCHOOL TRIP
Grey Main School had one class in Arthur's Pass on a school trip. They were due back in Greymouth this afternoon, but with the road closed would have to take the "long way" home via Lewis Pass.
The detour will be an extra 450km for the children who will spend an extra four-and-a-half hours on a bus, arriving home about 7pm instead of 2.30pm.
Acting principal Terrye Drake said the kids were "absolutely fine" except that they would be late home.
She did not recall a previous time when a school trip had been affected by the pass closing.
MetService meteorologist Peter Little said rainfall on the West Coast had not been too heavy, with 65 mm recorded in the past 24 hours at Haast.
But he said in the hour between 9 and 10am this morning there had been 13 mm of rain in a Haast rain gauge.
"We normally consider six mm per hour to be severely heavy rain," he said.
He said rainfall would have been higher in the mountain ranges.
Rain was already starting to ease around Fiordland, and would continue to clear as the front moved northward.
But heavy rain was expected to remain in the ranges of northern Westland, Buller and western Nelson into Saturday afternoon.
With 100 to 200 mm of rain forecast for those areas, the MetService advised that rivers and streams were likely to rise rapidly and that further slips and surface flooding were possible.
Downpours are also expected in the Tararua Ranges in the lower North Island, becoming heavy this afternoon and into tomorrow.
MetService has issued snow warnings for some South Island roads.
Snow showers are expected about higher parts of Milford Rd from late tomorrow afternoon, with three to six centimetres expected to accumulate between 4pm and midnight Saturday.
There is also potential for substantial snowfalls on Sunday, with 20 to 30 centimetres possible.
A few snow showers are also expected on the Lindis Pass, above 800 metres. One to two centimetres could accumulate late on Saturday afternoon.
Northwest gales gusting to 140kmh were forecast for exposed parts of inland Canterbury, Banks Peninsula and Christchurch's Port Hills, with winds rising to 150kmh in inland North Canterbury, MetService said.
Severe winds were forecast for Nelson, Marlborough, Wellington and Wairarapa, with gusts up to 130kmh forecast from this afternoon until tomorrow night.
Winds of this strength could damage trees, power lines and unsecured structures and lift roofs, as well as making driving hazardous, MetService said.
MetService communications meteorologist John Law said wind gusts up to 100kmh were recorded at Mt Cook Village early today.
"Those guys have still got stronger winds to come for the rest of the day," he said.
'Hawke's Bay could be hit by severe gales today and tomorrow.
NZTA is warning motorcyclists and drivers of high-sided vehicles and those with caravans to take extra care on the Desert Road in the central North Island because of the strong winds.
When the winds die down on Sunday there will be no respite for those in the lower North Island.
A predicted southerly change is likely to bring a light dusting of snow on the Rimutakas.
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