Deluge: Cleanup begins across the south

STAFF REPORTERS
Last updated 11:03 11/01/2013
Stranded
NOKOMAI HELICOPTERS

SWAMPED: A car is stranded in floodwaters on Nokomai Rd about noon yesterday.

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The cleanup has started across the south after heavy rain and flooding on Wednesday night and yesterday.

Northern Southland and Fiordland were among the hardest hit, with floodwaters washing away the approach on the Whitestone Bridge near Te Anau, and swamping paddocks and farmland elsewhere.

Surface flooding was common, with the Gore Fire Service attending eight call-outs to homes, businesses and a car crash while roads throughout the region were closed.

Lake Te Anau rose a metre overnight on Tuesday, sparking some concern about the impact of continuing rain, but by yesterday afternoon the rate of increase had slowed.

Meridian Energy fully opened the control gates on Lake Te Anau because of the influx of water.

Water had risen to cover the Kepler water taxi jetty and pontoons at the Te Anau Boating Club.

Environment Southland also monitored the region's rivers. Some, including the Mataura River, were expected to peak this morning.

New Zealand Transport Agency acting Southland state highway operations manager Murray Clarke said repair work on the Whitestone Bridge had started.

Concrete blocks and rocks were being used to fill the washed away section and it was hoped the bridge would open this morning, Mr Clarke said.

The approach would be unsealed until the surface could be compacted, he said.

In a mid-morning update NZTA said all state highways in the South Island were open to traffic this morning.

State Highway 6 from Haast to Makarora was now open, with both lanes of traffic operating, NZTA  acting southern region director Ian Duncan said.

"Contractors worked until late last night to get the road open by 6am this morning. They will be back on-site today cleaning out culverts and water tables and completing some general tidy up work."

Work would continue on SH73 from Cass to Arthur's Pass which had one lane open.

"Contractors will keep clearing this slip this morning and we hope to have two lanes open by later today," Duncan said.

SH 94 from Lumsden to Te Anau was re-opened late yesterday and the Milford Road re-opened at 8.30am today for all traffic.

"There remains some surface flooding from Te Anau to the Homer Tunnel and motorists are advised to take care through the area and allow an extra 30 minutes travel time."

The SH94 Milford Road would close again at 7pm, as has been the case since the end of November, because of safety concerns with rock fall risks in the area. Those closures would continue until the end of January.

Drivers' plans should not be disrupted today, but more rain was forecast over the weekend, and travellers were advised to check the NZTA website - www.nzta.govt.nz - or call the 0800 4 HIGHWAYS for the most up-to-date road and traffic information.

Downer and the NZTA were also called on to escort bus loads of cruise ship passengers from Te Anau to Milford Sound to meet up with their ship. The buses were also used to bring trampers stranded in Milford Sound back out.

But the Milford Road remained closed to the public with a further inspection to be carried out this morning, the agency said.

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The Department of Conservation said there had been widespread flooding in Fiordland National Park causing sections of the Milford and Routeburn tracks to be closed.

DOC spokeswoman Annie Wallace said while the full extent of the damage was not yet known, the department was working hard to keep the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler up and running.

Staff were being flown into the Milford Track to replace damaged bridges, and trampers were being flown over a short section of track, she said.

An electrical storm also damaged the radio repeater on the Milford Track making communication difficult on the track.

In Gore some residents woke to find their gardens and yards under water after torrential rain blanketed the area overnight on Tuesday.

The Fire Service were called out on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, six calls to residential properties, one to a business and another to a car accident in a flooded area.

Two of the six residential properties were at risk of internal flooding but were saved by the brigade.

Gore Fire Service chief fire officer Steve Lee said it was a busy night for volunteers but the rain had since ceased and water had subsided.

"It was a great team effort by 22 members of the volunteer fire brigade," he said.

Gore resident Susan Dennison said she woke about 8.30am to find her yard flooded and water underneath her Coutts Rd property.

"It's never happened before and we've been here eight years," she said.

Several roads were closed in the Gore district but some had reopened by the end of the day.

Retailers and business owners in flood-prone parts of Queenstown and Wanaka were briefed by council staff yesterday after heavy rain continued to push lakes up above flood warning levels.

Queenstown Lakes District Council spokesperson Meaghan Miller said Lake Wakatipu was not expected to peak until this morning, after initial modelling given by flood experts indicated it would peak yesterday.

"The ORC (Otago Regional Council) is still projecting we may get to the 311.40m mark," Ms Miller said

AS IT HAPPENED

~ Gore Fire Service called out to eight jobs related to flooding between 1.30am and 6.30am yesterday.

~ State Highway 94 from Lumsden to Te Anau closed after the approach to the bridge at Whitestone River is washed out by floodwaters.

~ State Highway 94 Milford Road, from Cascade Creek to Milford Sound, closed except to convoy cruise passengers back to their ship in Milford Sound and return with stranded trampers.

~ Helicopters used by DOC and tourism companies to move trampers along the Milford Track after sections of track washed away. Routeburn Track closed at the Lake Mackenzie outlet – midway through the track – because of flooding.

- The Southland Times

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