More snow as winter misery continues

MICHAEL DALY, NICOLE MATHEWSON, MICHELLE DUFF AND SAM BOYER
Last updated 15:31 22/06/2013
Fairfax NZ

Snow continues to affect high areas as low-lying cities struggle with heavy rains and flooding.

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A falling tree took out a power pole and lines, blocking Warwick St in the Wellington suburb of Wilton.
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Eric Bayly outside his Seddon St, Ward home where three trees have smashed into his home

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Linesmen, sewerage workers and arborists are working in extreme conditions to restore and retain basic services in storm-affected areas.

They were responding to the trail of debris left by the large storm system lingering over the country after tearing its way north on Thursday and Friday, causing great damage across the South Island and in the Wellington region.

In Christchurch, persistent heavy rains have flooded the city’s sewer system with a city council spokeswoman commenting it’s ‘‘chocker’’. The flooding was causing some overflows.

There was also surface flooding in some parts of the city, particularly around the Heathcote River in the Beckenham and lower Cashmere areas. Some nearby roads were closed.

The Christchurch City Council said king tides were expected from tomorrow through to Thursday and were likely to cause further flooding around the lower Avon and Heathcote rivers.

In Wellington, heavy rain continued to fall this afternoon causing a stream of calls to the city council from residents regarding flooded drains.

Spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was advising residents to attempt to clear the drain blockages themselves where safe.

About 1500 Wellington residents remained without power this afternoon after it initially went out in the overnight Thursday storm that barrelled the city with wind gusts of up to 200kmh.

Wellington Electricity was optimistic most of these households would have power restored by tonight.

Meanwhile, arborists and other council staff were clearing the trail of debris left by the storm. More than 500 trees had been reported down with 50 council staff working 24 hours to clear the priorities.

Also battered in the storm was the Marlborough region where many roads remained only passable by 4WD.

Power was also out for many in rural areas, but Marlborough Lines operations manger Brian Tapp said about 120 customers from Kekerengu to Clarence had had their electricity restored today.

‘‘We have 40 staff out working on high voltage lines first and then moving onto low voltage lines,’’ said Tapp.

‘‘We are working as quickly as we can but the main emphasis is on working safely and making things safe first.’’

Tapp could not guarantee that every customer would have their power restored to all by the end of the weekend.

CANTERBURY FLOODING

South of Christchurch in Leeston, firefighters were this morning rushing to stack sandbags at flood-prone properties as rising water levels started to threaten homes and businesses.

Ongoing flooding had been affecting the Selwyn township since heavy rain started falling last weekend with about 170mm of rain drenching the area over the last 10 days, Leeston fire chief Noel Thian said.

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Leeston's volunteer firefighters received about 14 calls for help from flood-prone property owners this morning.

Thian said the calls started coming through at about 8am and he expected to be kept busy through most of the day as the rain continued to fall.

The main problem was a creek running through the centre of the town, which had burst its banks and caused flooding on High St and around the fire station itself on Gallipoli St.

"It hasn't gone into any buildings, but there's not a lot we can do. We can't pump because we've got nowhere to pump it to."

Thian advised residents to watch their sewer systems and household water supplies.

"The sewer is inundated with water at the moment," he said.

IN THE NORTH

Rain was also affecting the upper half of the North Island with showery conditions expected all weekend.

"Both today and tomorrow, it's going to continue to be showery. Not particularly heavy showers, just passing showers," said Brooke Lockheart, Metservice forecaster.

Temperatures from Auckland to the top of the North Island would reach highs of 14C and lows 5C.

"So it's still pretty chilly, we've also got fresh south-westerly winds passing through," said Lockheart.

SNOW WATCH

Overnight in the North Canterbury district of Hurunui heavy snowfalls brought down power lines and trees, cutting water supplies to one rural area.

The overnight storm also brought driving wind and rain to coastal and southern areas with strong gales bringing down power lines and dozens of trees between Cheviot and Amberley.

 MetService was expecting snow to continue to fall in high areas issuing snowfall warnings for inland parts of Canterbury and southern Marlborough where further significant accumulations were expected above about 300 metres.

For the central North Island, further snow was expected above 700m on the central plateau, but the heaviest falls and largest accumulations today were restricted to the Ruahine Range, where heavy snow was forecast above 800m with lesser falls to near 500m.

"These further snowfalls will prolong disruption to travellers, especially about higher roads and alpine passes in both Islands," MetService said.

"Snow lying in rural areas is likely to take several days to melt."

In the deep south MetService said a few light snow showers were still possible to low levels in parts of Otago and Southland, but were forecast to clear later today. The threat of further significant snow accumulations had passed.

MetService was expecting the polar blast to ease nationwide over the course of the weekend.

SKIFIELD SMILES

The freezing winter storm has brought a bumper start to the season for The Remarkables ski area, but at Mt Hutt so much snow has fallen that access to the skifield is blocked.

The Remarkables was opening the season today with some of the best snow conditions seen in years, with the entire mountain open, nzski.com said.

Overnight another 4cm of dry powder snow fell, adding to an average base of 90cm.

In contrast, Mt Hutt was closed as further heavy snowfalls and low visibility hampered snow clearing on the access road, nzski.com said.

An estimated 1.8 metres of snow had fallen since the storm started, with drifts more than 3m deep in many areas. All lifts were heavily caked in ice.

AIRLINE PLAYS CATCH UP

Air New Zealand is running extra services into Wellington today to cater for passengers whose flights were disrupted by the severe weather of the past two days.

Weather was still causing a problem for Queenstown airport late morning, and flights between Queenstown and Christchurch and Wellington were being cancelled, the airline said.

All domestic jet flights were operating, but there were late running services throughout the network. The vast majority of regional services provided by Air New Zealand Link were also operating.

HIGHWAYS AFFECTED

On the Desert Rd snow showers were still possible about and south of the summit today, although most were expected this evening and overnight before clearing. Another 5cm to 10cm should accumulate above 800m, MetService said.

The Desert Rd was reopened to traffic this morning, but the NZ Transport Agency was urging drivers to take extra care.

In the South Island MetService has forecast further snow for the Lewis Pass with 5cm to 10cm falling throughout today. It should clear overnight.

For Porters Pass another 10-15cm was expected on higher parts of the road today, with the weather clearing late tonight.

Only a few more snow flurries were expected for Lindis Pass this morning, while for Arthurs Pass a few light snow showers were possible until noon or early afternoon.

In the South Island, sections of highway closed by snow included Arthurs Pass, Lindis Pass, Burkes Pass.

FLOODING WOES

Snow, sleet and heavy rain caused havoc across rural Canterbury yesterday, flooding farms and bringing down trees.

Tai Tapu farm owner Andrew Florance said two-thirds of his 120-hectare farm was under water by midday yesterday, thanks to heavy rain and an outdated drainage system.

"Depending on what happens now we will be wet until the end of August," he said.

His 180 cows were being mainly kept on 40 acres of hill country to keep them as dry as possible.

Only some of the feed they put on the ground was able to be eaten as it was either trampled by the animals, or sunk into the ground.

Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury president Chris Allen also had a flooded farm.

Like other farmers he was feeding up to double what he usually would since the stock were burning a lot of energy to keep warm.

"You might have had a reasonable amount of feed but they are not getting enough in their stomachs because the ground is just so sodden."

Allen said all farmers could do was feed out as much as possible and move stock to more sheltered areas.

"The concern is how long will it go on for."

INSURANCE CLAIMS FLOOD IN

The wild weather has seen insurance companies flooded with hundreds of claims and calls for assistance.

Insurers AMI and State said most claims in Wellington after Thursday night's storm were for wind, tree and water damage to houses, roofing and fences.

Craig Dowling, spokesman for the two companies, said they were also receiving claims for damage to outdoor items such as garden furniture and trampolines. Both expect the number of claims to rise over the next three or four days.

AA Insurance spokeswoman Amelia Macandrew said the company received more than 160 claims from Wellington customers yesterday and was expecting more as residents felt safe enough to leave their homes and assess the damage.

"We've had about 10 claims involving trampolines. Either people losing their trampolines into the neighbour's backyard or people getting the neighbour's trampoline in their backyard."

The Wellington region was also dominating claims to insurance company Tower after all the snow, wind and rain that battered the country in the past week.

Spokeswoman Tracey Palmer said the company had received about 150 weather-related claims.

"Claims ranged from roofs being blown off homes, to trees on rooftops, damage to fences and flooded carpets," she said.

Dowling said most claims from South Island customers had been for flooding, roof leaks, wind damage and some snow damage around spouting and roofing.

Terry Jordan, operations manager for the Insurance Council of New Zealand, said companies across the board had experienced large spikes in claims, but it would be a few days before the full financial impact of the storm was known.

Thursday's storm could potentially be the biggest weather event, insurance-wise, in the lower North Island since floods devastated the region in 2004, he said.

- The Dominion Post

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