Wintry blast brings country to a standstill

Last updated 12:45 25/07/2011

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LATEST: Up to 2000 homes remain without power and 19 people have been injured from falling or slipping on ice or snow, including seven in Christchurch.

The worst snow fall in 15 years blanketed quake-hit Christchurch overnight with up to 30cm of snow covering the city.

Motorists are warned they may have to stay off Christchurch roads for up to two days, as snow and ice make driving conditions dangerous.

 


 

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Concerns also remain that heavy snow could further damage quake-hit buildings.

Lines company Orion said about 1,700 customers were without power in parts of Marshland and Burwood, while some customers had also been affected in parts of Spencerville, Bishopdale, Harewood, Tai Tapu and Rolleston.

Orion general manager commercial Rob Jamieson said only minor network damage had been found at this stage and crews were working as quickly as possible to restore power to the affected areas.

"We urge people in Christchurch and central Canterbury to please keep off the roads as much as possible today - our crews need to be able to get through on the roads safely and quickly to restore power."

Power had been restored to about 1,000 homes in Burwood, New Brighton and Mairehau who lost power after a tree fell on a power line this morning.

Power was also back on in Belfast, Sumner, Heathcote, Governors Bay, Little River and most of Spencerville after a series of overnight power cuts.

PARAMEDICS AND POLICE TAKE TO FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE

Tony Dowell, St John district operations manager for Christchurch, said 10 ambulances were working on the road in Christchurch today, and an extra crew had been brought in to supplement crews.

Four-wheel drive ambulances and vehicles were being used where appropriate and all vehicles were operating with chains, Dowell said.

"We encourage people to be careful in the icy conditions, and we encourage people to stay home and only undertake travel if absolutely necessary."

Acting Road Policing manager Senior Sergeant Glenn Nalder said although only a handful of crashes had been reported to police today, road conditions remained treacherous as more snow fell across the city this afternoon.  

Most people seemed to be taking advice to stay off the roads, with no serious crashes reported in Christchurch today.

However, driving conditions for those who were venturing out would remain dangerous for the next 24 to 48 hours.

"Then when the snow begins to clear, there will be a high risk of ice on the roads.

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"So the message remains - stay off the roads unless it's absolutely necessary."

Meanwhile, police patrols in Christchurch have been boosted by extra four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Inspector John Price said police were continuing to respond to callouts across the city, and had been checking areas where power has been cut off.

"We understand there may be up to 100 households without electricity so we have been out and about in those areas checking on the welfare of residents," he says.

It was already a stressful time for many, and Price urged people to check on their neighbours, friends and families.

"For some people this will be a stressful time - coming on top of earthquake damage and uncertainty. Make sure they're safe and warm, and offer assistance if you can."

FLIGHT DISRUPTION

The snow has closed airports, roads, and major institutions in the South Island.

Flights out of the South Island have been badly disrupted with flights from Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown cancelled. Flights at Invercargill airport were experiencing delays.

Christchurch Airport spokeswoman Monique Oomen said flights to and from the city may resume later today, with airlines reassessing the situation at 3pm.

More than 200 people were stranded in a hall north of Dunedin this morning. Police said the group were staying warm with hot tea and coffee after getting stuck in snow on State Highway 1.

The severe weather was gradually easing over the lower South Island, but a final surge was expected in eastern and northern Canterbury and Kaikoura Coast, dropping another 20cm of snow.

Snow has also fallen in parts of the North Island with residents in Taranaki and parts of the lower North Island waking to snow.

Eltham woman Debbie Sheehy said she couldn't believe it when she peered out of her bedroom window. "It's the heaviest snow I've ever seen in Eltham."

The Hawke's Bay and Gisborne was expected to get a further 15cm of snow before the cold front moved offshore early this afternoon.

Patchy heavy snow falls were expected, especially about the southwest of the central plateau before easing tonight.

It was -0.3 degrees in Christchurch, 1.5 in Dunedin, -0.6 in Queenstown, 2.8 in Wellington, and 3.3 in Taupo this morning.

CHRISTCHURCH HIT HARD

A Christchurch City Council spokeswoman advised residents to stay at home, especially in the eastern suburbs, which already had poor road conditions due to the earthquakes.

Snow clearing and gritting was in progress in Christchurch, with crews concentrating on the arterial roads and the hills.

Conditions were "slippery and treacherous", and the hill suburbs were closed, police said.

Christchurch residents reported hearing a large bang around 10am this morning. There were multiple posts on Twitter from people fearing a building had come down.

A Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of any building that had come down this morning.

She said there were concerns that the heavy snowfall could cause further damage to buildings, such as bringing roofs down, but it wouldn't know till the central city was assessed tomorrow morning (the Red Zone is closed today).

Power was cut to parts of Christchurch, with homes in Belfast, Spencerville and Marshland without power since 11.43pm last night, a spokewoman for lines company Orion said.

Crews were working to restore power in those areas as soon as possible. Power had been restored in Sumner, Yaldhurst and Governors Bay.

This morning, student Alison Grant, from Riccarton, looked outside her window and couldn't help but gasp.

"Wow, so much snow, wow" she said. "There is a lot of snow, ankle-deep at least. It's still going really quite hard."

She was planning to spend the day enjoying the snow outside as the Canterbury University was closed, she said.

"I played outside last night as well. I'm going to enjoy the snow while it lasts."

"It's the first time I've seen snow like this," she said.

Sarah Joynson, from Redwood, was up early and also went outside to enjoy the snow, and said friends had done the same.

"We don't have snow like this ever."

Her partner had stayed home, rather than drive to Rolleston in the snow-covered streets, she said.

More than 30cm had already fallen in parts of Fiordland, Otago and Southland overnight.

SH1 between Dunedin and Oamaru and Dunedin and Gore was closed, along with SH75 (Little River through to Barrys Bay), SH5 Rangitaiki, SH93 Clinton to Mataura, SH35 Waipiro and SH94 Te Anau to Milford Sound.

In the North Island Desert Road was closed, with reports of snow being seen in Wellington's hill suburbs. State Highway 2 north of Upper Hutt was closed from Te Marua.

The MetService said the weather would mostly clear tonight, with some snow showers expected over the central plateau.

Heavy frosts were expected on Tuesday before temperatures improved.

Stuff and The Press

- The Press

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