Farmers unhurt after close call

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014

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A carload of South Taranaki farmers escaped injury after another rockfall on State Highway 3 slammed into their vehicle - in the exact place that a woman lost her life three months ago.

The near-miss for the three adults and one child about 10am on Wednesday has the trucking industry calling for immediate action to make the road safe.

The NZ Transport Agency said last night a million-dollar net mesh was about to be installed over the rockface north of Mahoenui on State Highway 3 to protect motorists from further rockfalls.

On Wednesday morning, in teeming rain, two large slabs of rock along with smaller rocks bounced over the concrete safety wall on the roadside, slamming into the northbound vehicle.

"I was just about to say this is where that woman was killed when we were hit," front seat passenger Graeme Norris, a farmer of Manaia, said yesterday.

The rockfall was sudden, frightening and life-threatening, he said. "We couldn't do anything to avoid it. In a split second the slabs bounced off the wall and over the concrete safety wall.

"I'm pretty sure if it hit the roof someone would have had pretty serious injuries."

The largest slab, about 2m by 1m, burst the tyre and damaged the rear suspension hitting the SUV beneath the seat where a 3-year-old boy was strapped in.

"We're very fortunate it hit the vehicle very low," Norris said.

The slab on the road was too heavy to be moved by hand, he said.

"A truck driver wrapped a chain around it and dragged it off the road."

The group, headed to the Mystery Creek Fieldays, were left in shock and had their day out cut short.

He was sympathetic with the truckies wanting action. They often travelled through at night.

"It's a straight drop to the bottom of the ravine. It's a dangerous stretch of road. But it is going to be a very difficult job to fix."

New Plymouth woman Joy Thompson, 74, died on March 28 when a rockfall at the same site crashed into the side of the car in which she was a passenger.

The Road Transport Association is now calling for the roading agency to carry out immediate work on the unstable overhanging cliff face which continues to put lives at risk.

"They have to get in there and do the job properly," spokesman Tom Cloke said. " They have had all this time and prior warning.

"They have known there is a problem here and yet have kept saying no to getting it fixed."

The transport agency's Hamilton highway manager Kaye Clark was very sympathetic at what the Taranaki travellers experienced.

"I totally understand. It must have been terrifying."

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However major work, costing between $1 million and $2m, was about to start in the next couple of months, she said.

"We have got major works about to start there to put robust steel mesh over the rockface."

The mesh would trap any falling rocks.

- Taranaki Daily News

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