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Food, farms, musicians hit by storm

Last updated 13:00 04/01/2013

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Road closures caused by washouts and heavy rain this week affected deliveries to Nelson of everything from produce to blues singers, while dairy farmers on the West Coast had to dump milk supplies.

Several days of heavy rain came to a head on Wednesday, with the West Coast and Fiordland bearing the brunt of the storm.

Trampers on the Wangapeka Track had to be retrieved by the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter, after spending a cold and wet night in the bush, and houses in Murchison were flooded.

Slips and flooding closed several roads in the area, but of these, only State Highway 65, between Murchison and Springs Junction, remained closed last night.

This meant artists scheduled to perform as part of the Woollaston Jazz Festival last night were unable to make the journey to Nelson.

Canterbury blues musicians Jon Hooker and Billy Vallance were to appear at the sold-out Blues At The Boathouse concert, but were turned back by floods and slips on the road and had to be replaced in the programme.

Festival director Liam Ryan said the festival was fortunate to have other musicians able to step up at the last minute.

Christchurch guitarist Harry Harrison and saxophonist Justine S were already in Nelson and were able to perform a replacement set.

"They were outstanding and blues punters were very happy," Mr Ryan said.

Organisers also had to deal with a power black-out across Mapua and Mahana, which delayed the Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert at Woollaston Estates, also sold-out.

Locals eventually sourced a generator and the concert proceeded an hour behind schedule.

Mr Ryan said the experience was stressful for the festival team but "character building".

Meanwhile, the road closure also hampered food deliveries to the city.

Fresh Choice Nelson dry goods manager Jo Kinzett said her store's delivery of produce and dry goods from Christchurch was delayed by 12 hours yesterday, not making it to the store until about 5.30pm.

The store had had a busy holiday period, and she said it was lucky the delay had not happened around Christmas or New Year.

The store did have a large amount of local goods, so even with the delay there were still products on the shelves, she said.

The store was expecting everything to be back to normal today.

On the West Coast, 50 dairy farms were forced to dump large amounts of milk because they could not transport it.

Heavy rain washed away about 40 metres of road on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland, on Wednesday.

The washout forced the closure of State Highway 6 - the main road along the West Coast - and caused up to 1000 West Coast homes to lose internet and phone access when a fibre optic cable was cut.

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Westland Milk Products general manager of operations Bernard May said about 50 dairy farms had been forced to dump "a fair percentage" of milk because they could not transport it via Hokitika.

Communications were difficult in the area and the company was flying in a representative in by helicopter to speak to the farmers.

Mr May said a fleet of milk tankers was driving into the area to take milk to other South Island facilities, with some milk expected to be collected overnight.

Yesterday, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was still developing a repair plan for the Wanganui River bridge.

NZTA West Coast senior asset manager Mark Pinner said contractors were using heavy rocks in an attempt to redirect the river, but floodwaters had prevented structural engineers from inspecting the bridge.

It would still be several days before it was safe to reopen the road.

Phone and internet services were restored to residents yesterday, after provider Chorus put a temporary cable over the river.

Elsewhere, tourists stranded in Arthur's Pass on Wednesday night, were able to leave after flooded sections of State Highway 73 reopened to traffic.

Czech visitor Jan Pleskac, among motorists stuck in the township on Wednesday night, was forced to turn back and take shelter after the section of highway he was driving on became flooded. "There was a small queue of cars in front of the water, some of them tried to pass and succeeded, but the smaller cars with the lower gears, they got stuck in the middle of the water there," Mr Pleskac said.

After the cars were pulled out of the water, officials ordered the motorists to turn back to Arthur's Pass for the night.

- Nelson

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