Get set for more wind, rain

ROB KIDD AND ANDREW BEACH
Last updated 17:23 10/07/2014
Stuff.co.nz

Parts of Northland remain under water after heavy rain flooded the region.

A Vector lines worker repairs powerlines in Muriwai after gales struck Auckland and Northland.
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A Vector lines worker repairs powerlines in Muriwai after gales struck Auckland and Northland.

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Civil Defence is warning storm-battered Northland residents to get ready for more of the same.


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The region has been pounded by strong winds and heavy rain in the last couple of days and the MetService is warning the foul weather will continue for another two days.

There was a severe weather warning in place from 9am with predictions of more surface flooding.

Northland Civil Defence emergency management group spokeswoman Claire Nyberg, said 100 millimetres of rain was forecast in some northern and eastern parts of the region, especially north of the Bay of Islands until midnight tomorrow.

Northeast gales with gusts of 90kmh to 110kmh were also expected in exposed areas.

Nyberg said a number of eastern and inland rivers and streams from Kaeo to Whangarei were already struggling to cope with the volumes of water in them.

Structural damage to Northland's power network from the storm had been immense, lines company Top Energy said.

Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw said the storm was most severe event the company had experienced for at least a decade and the network was damaged across the entire region.

Significantly, damage extended beyond wires to include poles and other structures, he said.

Sturdy concrete power poles had been blown down and even snapped, and large 50 to 60-year-old trees had been blown down across lines and access roads. Winds gusting to 160kmh had ripped lines out of the cross-arms on electricity poles.

Usually damage to structures was relatively minor and Top Energy could simply clear tree debris and pull wires back up, Shaw said.

But in this case the structural damage would increase repair time significantly.

Repairs could be further hampered by more heavy rain and winds of up to 130kmh forecast for this afternoon and this evening.

But Shaw said power customers across the Far North had been terrific.

"They've been hugely patient and immensely understanding," he said.

"They need to know that we're working tirelessly, within the limits of safety, to restore their electricity supplies."

Top Energy line repair crews working in shifts in difficult conditions brought 3500 Far North households back online late yesterday afternoon and into the evening, with the result that at 6am today about 7500 customers were without power, down from the 11,000 at 4.15pm yesterday.

Today crews would continue to focus on restoring the 33,000 volt main feeder lines that bring electricity to substations before it is distributed to individual properties. The next step is to repair the 11,000 volt distribution lines and finally the smaller lines and individual faults.

Crews were back out but continued to experience heavy rain and high winds across the region, Shaw said.

The company warned some customers could face a third night without power.

The areas most affected by the outages were Pukenui, Awanui, Te Kao, Te Hapua, Mahiniapua, Peria and Towai.

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"We're gutted that, by the time supplies are fully restored, a significant chunk of the Far North will end up having been without power for two, possibly even three nights," Shaw said.

"We lost 75 per cent of supply to the Far North supplied from Kaitaia and 25 per cent to the Mid North supplied from Kaikohe."

The company used a small window of clear weather yesterday to get a helicopter to survey the damage and find the main feeder faults, which proved critical to being able to "sectionalise" damaged feeder lines and prioritise the areas requiring work.

Crews from Counties Power and WEL, will be working with Top Energy teams today in the northern part of the region.

The company said it was focusing on fixing the main feeder lines.

If anyone was aware of at-risk or seriously ill people who were suffering through the lack of power they should contact emergency services on 111 as soon as possible, Top Energy said.

It asked the public to stay clear of downed powerlines at all times, to keep other people clear and also to keep animals away.

The school holidays made the safety request even more significant and parents were asked to treat all downed power lines as live and to ensure children were warned about lines on the ground and kept clear.

Motorists were continuing to face delays in Northland as a result of the storm.

The NZ Transport Agency said at 11.30am that State Highway 12 was down to one lane near Kaikohe, and was closed entirely north of Dargaville.

SH11 was closed between Paihia and Kawakawa (Lemons Hill), and potholes had formed on SH1 at Ruakaka, south of Whangarei.

HEALTH WARNING

Northlanders have been warned to stay out of waterways, floodwaters and harbours to avoid contact with contaminated water.

Northland District Health Board's medical officer of health Clair Mills has issued a general region-wide warning today.

Whangarei District Council infrastructure and services group manager Simon Weston said there would be a range of contaminants in all floodwater, streams, rivers and the harbour as a result of the prolonged rainfall.

"Our wastewater treatment plant is discharging treated effluent -not raw," he said.

"The Hatea pumping station has operated according to plans, and where there have been power cuts we have had sucker trucks and generators at pumping stations.

"However, particularly in rural areas, private septic tank and effluent-holding systems may be vulnerable and in urban areas it is possible that some manholes may be surcharging.

"The advice is to keep out of the water until it is clear - generally five days after the storm ends - and not to consume shellfish or wetfish caught in the storm area."

Meanwhile, Auckland residents are almost all back on the grid.

Vector energy said hundreds of customers have had their power restored and less than 700 customers were still disconnected at 4.30pm.

Gulf Harbour ferry sailings have been cancelled this afternoon and tomorrow morning due to weather conditions. Replacement buses were scheduled for 4.40pm and 5.35pm.

- Stuff

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