Milford clearing may be delayed
Clearing the avalanche-stricken Milford road could be put on hold as more snow looms.
MetService issued a road snowfall warning for the Milford road yesterday and more snow is forecast today.
Tuesday's severe storm caused 20 avalanches on the Milford road and a landslide on the Hollyford road.
The Milford road has been closed since Tuesday morning.
Tourists and staff are stranded at Milford Lodge and Gunn's Camp but most remain in good spirits.
Downer avalanche programme manager Wayne Carran said workers were clearing about 20 avalanches, a massive landslide and a boulder weighing up to 50 tonnes from the road.
The avalanches were caused by heavy rain hitting fresh snow, he said.
Diggers, bulldozers and loaders with chains broke through 400 metres of snow and debris stacked 4 metres high to the east side of the Homer Tunnel yesterday.
It was the first time a path to the tunnel had been cleared since Tuesday's storm, allowing contractors to start clearing west of the tunnel.
It was hoped the Milford road would be reopened this weekend but it depended on whether more snow arrived.
Roads, road barriers and a temporary workers' shelter had been damaged by avalanches near the tunnel.
NZ Transport Agency Southland area manager Peter Robinson said if more snow arrived today, it could slow or even halt the clearing work.
"In several places it is severe and a temporary road surface will have to be used until full repairs can be completed in the late spring/summer period," he said.
A date for reopening the road was expected to be forecast today.
An "ugly" landslide had also hit the Hollyford road - its first major landslide - blocking access to Gunn's Camp.
It was uncertain how long the road would be closed for.
Tourism industry counts the cost
A string of closures of the road to Milford during the past year has cost the Fiordland tourism industry millions of dollars.
The Milford road, gateway to tourist hotspot Milford Sound, has been closed since Tuesday when a severe storm ripped through the south.
Avalanche cleanup crews broke through hundreds of metres of snow yesterday reaching the Homer Tunnel, but the road is still expected to be closed into the weekend.
The Hollyford road has been hit by a massive landslide, blocking access to Gunn's Camp, where it is understood two tourists and staff are stranded.
Real Journeys chief executive Richard Lauder said the Milford road had been closed for more than 50 days in the past year, which had "undoubtedly" cost the industry millions of dollars.
But the safety of customers was paramount and decisions by the NZ Transport Agency to close the road were supported, he said.
Fiordland Tours owner operator Ray Horrell said three tours had been cancelled this week affecting about 20 people.
It was a "double whammy" because the Milford and the Hollyford roads were closed, he said.
There had been more road closures in the past 12 months, in total about 70 days, than he had seen in the past decade.
The impact had been minimised because it was the tourism off-season.
Milford Sound Lodge general manager Christine Wallace said the 15 people stranded at Milford were staying at the lodge.
"They are all good natured about the situation and making the most of having Milford Sound largely to themselves," she said.
"Many have commented they had never experienced a storm quite like the one we had and thoroughly enjoyed the Fiordland performance.
"Southern Discoveries have kindly taken them on a morning cruise [yesterday] and they were lucky enough to see seals, dolphins, penguins and probably the biggest waterfalls of the year."
Staff were well-trained to handle the logistics of the closures and were "well-practiced" after extensive closures over summer.
There would be no issues with food and other supplies until the road was reopened because everyone was sharing.
Milford Helicopters pilot Snow Mullally said the company had taken no tourists through Milford since the storm hit.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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