Tourists in Nelson were lucky to survive a flooded Waimea River after their cars were swept downstream during a torrential downpour this morning.
The heavy rain was part of a band which brought flooding and disruption to the middle of the country down as far as Christchurch this morning.
The four tourists, understood to be from the United States, Canada and Germany, had decided to camp under the bridge to shelter from the deluge.
A frantic search began when one was missing in the water for 10 minutes.
Constable Dave Thompson, of Nelson police, said the tourists were very lucky to have got out of the situation they were in.
One of the tourists, who declined to give his name said: "The river just suddenly got swollen."
After heavy overnight rain, one of the group woke to the sound of water entering the van around 9.30am.
He then woke the other campers and they attempted to push the front van out of the rapidly rising river.
Senior Constable Dave Colville of Nelson police said that the two vans had been tied together to create a washing line and that unfortunately prevented the group from pushing the first van out.
The group then began to empty the vans of their possessions and valuables. After some items were washed away downstream, one of the group attempted to swim after them. He was swept away in the current and eventually managed to swim to the bank on the opposite side of the river.
The vans were last seen floating down the river and are yet to be located. The harbour masters have been informed.
Senior Constable Colville said the group had been taken to a campground to dry their gear out.
He said they were very lucky to have escaped unharmed and advised other campers that parking on a river bed in torrential rain was not a safe option.
A number of homes and businesses in Nelson were dealing with flooding following the rain.
Heavy falls from yesterday afternoon continued overnight and began to ease about 8am, but more rain had fallen intermittently throughout the morning.
The volume and persistence raised concerns, with widespread flooding in the region in December 2011 still fresh in people's minds.
The Nelson City Council confirmed surface flooding had closed or affected some roads, council staff were monitoring river levels, and the Fire Service was called out this morning to help clear blocked gutters and flooding at homes and businesses in Nelson and Stoke. Drivers were also urged to take care in treacherous conditions.
The rain in Nelson was expected to ease through the day but heavy showers were still possible.
WET FOR WELLINGTON
MetService had issued a severe weather watch for Wellington, and a severe weather warning - another grade up the warning scale - for nearby areas.
"This watch is for the possibility of significant heavy rain in Wellington today," the service said.
"At this stage, rainfall totals look set to fall short of 'warning' criteria, but MetService forecasters will maintain a watch."
With a low moving east across central New Zealand, heavy rain was expected in some areas including Mt Taranaki, Tararua, Nelson, Marlborough and North Canterbury.
All those places had a severe weather warning issued by MetService.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said there was surface flooding around Wellington and debris had been washed from storm water drains.
MetService meteorologist Dan Corbett said Kelburn had 7.6 millimetres of rain in the hour to 9.45am, compared to one place at the top of the South Island, which recorded 39mm in the same period.
"Some of that is creeping across to us," Corbett said.
As the rain from the South Island moved on to Wellington today, the capital could get 30-50mm of rain this afternoon.
"We are not out of the woods yet," he said.
Weather is expected to clear tonight and tomorrow.
A day of rain was also expected further south in Christchurch, with MetService forecaster Philippa Murdoch saying 20-30mm was expected to fall in the city.
"That's quite a lot of rain, but it's not what we'd call heavy rain," she said.
Rain would ease this evening and clear overnight, she said.
A southerly change about midday would also keep temperatures cooler, with today's high only 16 degrees Celsius.
A Fire Service spokesman said the rain was a relief after last week's searing temperatures and high winds which sparked fires in the Selwyn district, destroying homes and killing livestock.