Lusi's path widens over New Zealand

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 20:14 13/03/2014

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Authorities in Christchurch are preparing for the worst in case Tropical Cyclone Lusi brings more gale-force winds and heavy rain for residents still mopping up after last week's storm. 

> See Lusi's recent progress here.

Christchurch City staff were checking storm drains, stop banks and preparing sandbags ahead of the expected heavy rain this weekend.

Forecasters say the remains of Tropical Cyclone Lusi could dump 60mm to 100mm of rain on Christchurch this Sunday.

The city is already saturated from last week's storm in which more than 80mm of rain fell on the city, forcing dozens of people from their homes. Up to 150mm fell in some parts of Banks Peninsula.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said authorities were preparing for the "worst-case scenario" this weekend.
"We'd rather be over-prepared than under-prepared," she said.

"The city is treating this very very seriously. We regard ourselves as on very high alert."

Stormwater drains had already been checked and all response and welfare agencies would be meeting again tomorrow to make sure the city was ready. 

Dalziel said she was personally encouraging people to check on their families, friends and neighbours before the storm hit to "make sure people aren't quietly sitting at home not knowing what to do". 

Welfare centres in Mairehau, Fendalton, Woolston and New Brighton were "on standby" just in case, and sandbags would be available in "key locations", although those were yet to be determined.

Sandbags were effective for protecting "isolated" areas, such as garages and commercial shops, and for diverting water that was running down hills.

"[However] sandbags will not hold out the water that comes up through your floorboards. It will not hold water out that finds other ways to come into your house," Dalziel said.

WEAK LINKS IN STORMWATER

Council environment group acting general manager Terry Howes said there were a number of "weak links" in the city's stormwater system, but the council had "done all we can" to mitigate potential issues this weekend.

High tide was due to arrive at 5am on Sunday - before the storm was due to hit the city, meaning it should not have such a big impact this time, he said.

The forecast heavy rain was also not expected to cause further land subsidence at the site of a slip that damaged a Mobil-owned aviation fuel tank in Lyttelton last week, spilling 1500 litres of fuel into the harbour.

"The cliff-face is stable and should not cause us a great deal of concern," Howes said. 

CHANGE IN STORM COULD MEAN HIGHER WINDS

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said yesterday Lusi was lying east of Vanuatu with average winds from 119kmh to 157kmh. The system had potential to intensify further because of the warm tropical waters surrounding it, he said.

As of midday today, the storm has been upgraded to a category 3 cyclone and had begun tracking southwards towards New Zealand.

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Blue Skies weather forecaster Tony Trewinnard said it was certain Lusi would hit New Zealand, bringing heavy rain and likely flooding to parts of the North Island.

"These systems are very small, very compact, very powerful, and like any small but powerful thing it only needs a small change in its movement or direction to have a very different outcome."

The widespread flooding that caused havoc in Christchurch last week was caused by a different kind of weather event, but people should also make preparations for Lusi, he said. "This storm has the potential to have similar outcomes to last time."

Since yesterday, the projected track of the storm had changed and Trewinnard said it seemed it would now further westward than earlier predicted.

"This is looking somewhat better than we had yesterday."

Yesterday Trewinnard said 40 to 60mm of rain could hit Canterbury, but today he said that looked more likely to be 30 to 40mm.

But because of the change in track, he said the storm could bring higher winds to the region.

"People do still need to be taking it seriously. It's a weather system that needs to be treated with respect."

He expected rain to arrive in Canterbury late on Saturday night, with the heaviest rains on Sunday afternoon. Strong winds around midday Sunday could get towards gale-force strength.

Trewinnard said the changes to the storm would bring more rain than previously predicted to Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay.

Christchurch City Council civil defence emergency manager Murray Sinclair said authorities were more prepared after last week's storm, but were worried about the potential for more damage.

He said he wanted an emergency operations centre ready on Saturday in case the storm did reach Canterbury.

"We're worried if it does come. We don't want to get caught."

Sinclair said more heavy rain could cause further land movement in vulnerable hillside areas and geotechnical engineers were "elevating" their monitoring of such areas.

Councillors and community board members were briefed by Civil Defence this morning, and more information from engineers would be discussed later today.

The CCC is also liaising with the Army and volunteer groups to secure extra resources, should an emergency response be required.

Diane Shannon, whose Carrick St house flooded last Wednesday, said there was not much she could do if Lusi brought more heavy rain to Christchurch this weekend.

"Everything is so wet at the moment. If we have another lot of heavy rain now, it's going to flood very quickly."

CRUISE CHANGES COURSE

One of the world's most glamorous cruise ships, Cunard's Queen Victoria, has cancelled a sailing through the Bay of Islands tomorrow in a bid to avoid the worst of Cyclone Lusi.

The 90,000 gross ton Queen Victoria and Royal Caribbean's 137,276 gross ton Voyage of the Seas were docked in Auckland today.

A spokesman for Carnival Australia, owners of Cunard, said Queen Victoria sailed this evening, heading straight for Tonga rather than incorporating a slow sailing through the Bay.

"She will go straight to Tonga so that we can avoid the worst of the weather," the spokesman said.

"Safety and security are paramount for passengers and crew."

Queen Victoria and its 2000 passengers are on a world cruise.

Voyage of the Seas with 3100 passengers left early this evening for Sydney.

Meanwhile, Russian fertiliser billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, 42, wife Aleksandra and dog Vala are reportedly aboard their extravagant $350 million superyacht "A", anchored off Moturua Island in the shelter of the Bay of Islands.

The big white stealth-like boat has been in Auckland getting a new paint job but left on Monday.

VANUATU SLAMMED

Lusi appears to have inflicted a major disaster on Vanuatu, a nation of 247,000 people.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said fatalities from the storm were a boy on Santo, an elderly woman on Malekula and a man on Pentecost.

"There are numerous reports of damage to houses and people sheltering in evacuation centres," the office said.


Coastal and low-lying communities are flooded and groundwater sources have been contaminated due to damaged water infrastructure.

"All provinces are reporting extensive damage to crops and fruit trees, including coconut, breadfruit, papaya, banana, manioc and yam."

Work has now begun by officials to find out the extent of the disaster and what help will be needed.

- Stuff

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