Tourist swept away in deluge

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 16:04 15/01/2013
PATRICK HAMILTON/NELSON MAIL

Steve Harper of California and Jim Marshall of Texas, part of a group of tourists who had been camped under the Appleby Bridge when the river swept their vans and gear away

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Tourists were lucky to survive a flooded Waimea River after their cars were swept downstream during a torrential downpour this morning.

Emergency services searched the river at Appleby after being notified at 9.43am that two cars were submerged under the bridge at Appleby.

Four tourists 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, said the tourists were very lucky to have got out of the situation they were in.

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, including a guitar 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 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.

"I’m not losing the guitar"

An American tourist washed down the flooded Waimea River said he was not worried he would drown but was focused on saving his guitar.

‘‘I figured at some point .... I will get to the shore, it might be a serious inconvenience because I’ll be really far away from everyone. ... I was very determined. I was like the backpack, I can lose that, but I’m not losing the guitar,’’ Steve Harper said.

Mr Harper, 21, and his friend Tim Marshall, 26, spoke to the Nelson Mail at Richmond Police station today  following the drama.

Mr Harper, who was holding his rescued guitar, was wearing a police jersey and a towel as his clothes were left sodden from the river.

The pair, and the two women they were travelling with, parked in the river bed of the Waimea River near the Appleby Bridge on Monday night.

Mr Marshall woke up to the sound of water trickling into his van.The group were able to save some of their possessions, but unable to rescue their campervans which were last seen floating down the river.

Mr Harper said it was raining when they decided to camp under the bridge, but they checked the river and thought it would be fine to spend the night there. They joked it would be funny to wake up and the river was flooded.

Mr Harper woke up to Mr Marshall trying to move his van and yelling at them to ‘‘evacuate’’.

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‘‘I looked up and the whole car was surrounded by water,’’ he said.

There was too much water to drive the vans out. A washing line tied between the two vans prevented the group from pushing the first van out.

‘‘That’s what doomed my van,’’ Mr Marshall said.

Mr Harper, who is also American, said they decided to salvage as much of their stuff as they could.He was unable to save any of his girlfriend Annie’s bags. She lost everything including her passport and wallet.

He swam across the river to get his bag and guitar, but had difficulty getting back and was washed down stream.He ended up some way down stream and eventually managed to get back to shore.

The water became shallow enough that he could walk upstream, but he was barefoot and wearing only his boxers so it was tough going.

Police took the group to a camp ground to dry out. The group was thankful to the Richmond police and others who had helped.

- Nelson

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