West Coast highway closed after bridge washout

Last updated 05:00 03/01/2013
The missing section on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland after it washed away on Wednesday.
ROYDON DICK

STRAIGHT CUT: The missing section on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland after it washed away on Wednesday.

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A washed-out bridge linking the West Coast main highway to the Haast Pass will be out of action for at least two days.

Heavy rain caused about 40 metres of road to wash away on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland, yesterday, forcing the closure of State Highway 6, the main road along the West Coast.

Up to 1000 West Coast homes also lost internet and phone access, including emergency calls.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesman Ewart Barnsley said the road would be closed for at least two days, with the only detour a long one via Wanaka. Contractors were working to divert the river back to its original course by shifting boulders, he said.

A structural engineer was also on site to inspect the 180-metre single-lane bridge. "We need to know what damage, if any, has been done to that structure."

NZTA was also preparing to bring in a temporary bridge, known as a Bailey bridge, from Christchurch to get the road reopened quickly. "We'll get it open as quickly as we can and only when we have assurance that it's safe," Barnsley said.

The road washout also knocked out a key fibre-optic cable supplying telecommunication services to residents south of Harihari.

Snap chief executive Mark Petrie said the cable was used by nearly all telecommunication companies to provide services to the area, with about 1000 homes south of Harihari believed to be affected.

"They're completely isolated down there. They've lost phone, internet and mobile."

A spokeswoman for Chorus, which owned the cable, said satellite phones could be used as a temporary fix for those who could still make local calls, with a technician monitoring the phone exchange for emergency calls.

It was not known if any of the affected residents were able to make local calls.

The spokeswoman said it was hoped technicians could start work on repairing the cable last night. They were waiting for a break in the weather.

Once workers were able to gain safe access, it would take about half a day to string a new cable across the river, she said.

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