Chilly blast brings more misery

SHANE COWLISHAW, NICOLE MATHEWSON, WILMA MCCORKINDALE AND ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013
Wellington storm
KIRSTY FARRANT Zoom
A falling tree took out a power pole and lines, blocking Warwick St in the Wellington suburb of Wilton.
Eli Hansen
Carys Monteath Zoom
SNOW DELIGHTS: Eli Hansen, 5, makes the most of a day off school to play at Victoria Park, Cashmere.
Canterbury weather, June 22-23, 2013
Kamala Hayman Zoom
A snowman on Summit Rd.

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Wild weather continues to pound New Zealand, with floods and landslides striking the South Island, snow and frigid cold gripping the central North Island and thousands of people in Wellington still waiting for power to be restored.

In Dunedin, a landslide forced several families from their homes before it was declared safe for them to return.

In Leeston, torrential rain and rising floodwaters led to evacuations.

In Manawatu, a young farmer survived freezing overnight temperatures trapped under his overturned quad bike.

In Central Otago, three farmers were rescued from a remote hut after being trapped by deep snow since Thursday.

In Wellington, electricity workers battled to restore power, with 1200 houses still in the dark.

Having endured the worst storm in decades, the lower North and South Islands can now look forward to blue sky, but a chilly southwesterly will ensure snow sticks around for most of the week, said MetService forecaster Leigh Matheson.

It is a merciful change of pace from yesterday and earlier in the week.

Members of Dunedin's Blakey family ran for their lives as tall trees around their Blanket Bay Rd section cracked under the force of a slip yesterday.

Alfie Blakey said police rapping at the doors awoke the household around 4.30am - a landslide that barely missed a neighbour's house above theirs a couple of days earlier was again on the move. It had already taken out her driveway and her car.

Blakey, her husband and three kids fled in the car with a sleeping bag, a teddy bear, a bag of food and documents. The family have now returned, their home deemed safe but surrounded by "a great big mess".

"It's just devastating. When you see something that size you get a new respect for nature. You can see why they got us out."

In Christchurch, firefighters rushed to sandbag flood-prone properties, while a slip fell on the Lyttelton Museum and the city's sewer system overflowed.

A Christchurch City Council spokeswoman said the city's sewers were "chocker" due to heavy rain, while the ongoing downpour caused flooding in low-lying eastern areas, particularly around the Heathcote River.

A slip off Lyttelton's Gladstone Tce fell through the site of the Lyttelton Museum, which had already been closed because of earthquake damage.

It destroyed a storage building holding surplus equipment and display items.

One resident was evacuated but other houses in the area above the slip had been red-zoned after Canterbury's earthquakes and were all unoccupied, a police spokesman said.

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Surface flooding in Spencerville, just north of the city, saw the cancellation of the annual mid-winter polar plunge, and king tides expected today through to Thursday, were likely to cause further flooding around the city's rivers.

Firefighters spent the day stacking sandbags on flooded Leeston properties and in the Hurunui district to protect homes, while heavy snowfalls overnight Friday brought down power lines and trees.

Snow also kept some state highways closed, including Porters Pass and Burkes Pass, while others required ongoing caution.

Meanwhile, in Wellington, 1200 households remained in the dark as Wellington Electricity scrambled to restore power - having reconnected the bulk of the 30,000 homes knocked out by the storm on Thursday night.

Emergency services were kept busy, with dozens of calls to leaking roofs, fallen trees and flooding.

The small Wellington community of Horokiwi was badly affected, with almost all residents without power.

Several powerlines had been snapped in half and massive trees had fallen everywhere.

Resident Debbie Green said the community had gathered together to clear some of the debris off the main road to create an access point. Luckily they had a woodburner at their house and had borrowed a generator.

Ferry and rail services in the capital remained sporadic yesterday, with the Aratere Interislander ferry likely to be out of action for several days after breaking loose of its moorings during the storm.

WEATHER WARNING: BRACE FOR A DELUGE OF WORDS

It was a "once-in-50-year storm", it was "the most snow in a generation", it was the "strongest wind for years". Was it perhaps also "the most overblown weather language in a lifetime"?

Days before the first snowflake hit the country last week, there were already reports of the magnitude of the coming storm - and the hyperbole began falling as heavy and long as the forecast rain.

WeatherWatch.com head weather analyst Philip Duncan admitted the language of weather was a curious thing, and the public could be bombarded with grandiose descriptions of weather that in reality was not significantly worse than it had been in previous years.

For instance, he said, last week's storm was similar to that which hit in August 2011.

When there were reports of a "once in 100-year flood" happening in consecutive years, he did some digging to find out how that could be the case.

"It's a statistical calculation - it's one of those funny things," Duncan said.

Often when the power of a storm was stated, meteorologists would use the statistical likelihood of it repeating rather than measuring it against other weather events over the years.

MetService spokeswoman Jacqui Bridges said they would only make comparisons with the past when the storm had gone, and even then it was difficult to make sweeping statements.

Last week, some people compared Wellington's wild weather to that at the time of the Wahine disaster 45 years ago, but while waves were a similar height, the winds were not as strong.

Bridges said most of the "worst storm since . . ." quotes came from residents in affected areas, relying on their memories rather than scientific equipment.

Duncan, who set up WeatherWatch in 2005, said "emotive language slipped out" in the early days.

Bridges said the key was to get the correct information to people without embellishments.

"It's important we don't cry wolf," she said.

Duncan agreed it was important to focus on language and erring on the side of conservatism was always safest.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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