Chaos as weather bites

ROAD  BLOCK: The road to Milford Sound was blocked by giant boulders.
ROAD BLOCK: The road to Milford Sound was blocked by giant boulders.

From a huge slip in Milford to two young boys trapped under a tree in Whangarei, yesterday's foul weather affected the entire country.

Suzanne Campbell's two grandsons Evan, 7, and Riley, 5, were walking up the path of a house in Earls Pl, Onerahi, when a massive gust of wind brought the tree down on top of them.

"It split the tree trunk clean in half," Campbell said. "My son-in-law heard the boys yell but didn't think anything of it, but when he checked on them they were stuck underneath the trunk."

Neither boy was injured in the freak accident.

The only road into Milford Sound is expected to be closed for several days after an avalanche spewed 200-tonne rocks across it.

The slip on Milford Rd on Friday night cut off access to the popular tourist destination, and New Zealand Transport Agency Southland area manager Peter Robinson said it stretched across 200 metres between Falls and Monkey creeks.

Robinson said most visitors had already left the area when the road closed, but Milford Lodge's Emma France said there were 27 visitors yesterday and six were flown out by helicopter. "The rest are waiting for updates, relaxing with a glass of wine."

Hundreds of cruise ship tourists were stranded in Akaroa last night as heavy rain and winds hit the area.

Sea Princess cruise ship spokesman David Jones last night said 712 passengers and 50 crew needed accommodation.

"The onset of some deteriorating weather meant that we had to suspend the tender service to return passengers back to the ship after their excursions in the Canterbury area. Safety is always the first priority, so those passengers and crew members remain in Akaroa."

The passengers gathered in the gymnasium at the Akaroa Area School while accommodation was found. Some stayed in Akaroa and others were transferred to Christchurch.

Rain and snow pummelled the rest of the South Island and a landslide hit State Highway 6 from Haast to Hawea.

In Christchurch, the city council closed the Old Waimakariri Bridge on State Highway 1 because of rising water levels, and was monitoring the situation.

In the Tasman, police issued extreme wind warnings. A number of trucks had to pull off the road in the hazardous conditions, and police warned caravans, campervans and motorcyclists not to travel.

In the North Island, trees were uprooted and firefighters had to answer more than 30 calls. Fire communications manager Scott Osmond said many jobs involved shifting trees that had blocked roads, fallen on to powerlines, and one that hit a house in Auckland's Glen Innes.

Strong winds also buffeted the Coromandel Peninsula, cutting power to Thames from lunchtime to 6.30pm.

MetService forecaster John Law said powerful winds would continue today "but from a different direction. It's not feeling very pleasant."

MetService warned that rivers and streams, especially on the West Coast, may rise rapidly and slips and surface flooding could occur.

Sunday Star Times