Little River becomes big river

PAUL GORMAN AND SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2011

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A burst of warm air today should help dry out parts of Canterbury flooded after the heaviest rain this year.

The storm system that hit coastal Otago and South Canterbury on Tuesday sat off Banks Peninsula yesterday, bringing more than 50 millimetres of rain to many places and flooding several rivers around the region.

Little River was turned into a big river by the downpour, with fast-running water up to knee-height streaming down the main road through the Banks Peninsula town yesterday afternoon.

Christchurch City Council said 35 people had been stranded by the flooding, and were housed at the Little River Hall by the volunteer fire brigade.

Deputy chief fire officer John Genefaas said the first flood-related call had come in at about midday, while several cars had been waylaid by the water.

"The worst part of the flooding was in the township, and a few people tried to go through and got stuck."

Genefaas said the stranded drivers had been able to go "on their merry way" by late afternoon, as the rain stopped and the flooding eased.

He did not believe the flooding had caused any significant damage, although several shops had been flooded.

Akaroa-Wairewa Community Board deputy chairman and Little River resident Bryan Morgan said the storm had caused the worst flooding in the area in recent memory.

"I've been out here 18 years and I've never seen anything like this."

Gale-force southerly winds compounded the atrocious conditions, with wind gusts of 90kmh around Christchurch and more than 120kmh across higher parts of the peninsula.

By last night wind and rain were easing as warmer Australian air made its way across the Tasman Sea bound for the South Island today.

MetService spokesman Bob McDavitt said temperatures would rise into the low 20s, "courtesy of Australia".

The rapid change in weather would not last long, with drizzle likely at times tomorrow and on Saturday.

The downpour forced the closure of several roads in the city and Banks Peninsula.

Acting city environment general manager Alan Beuzenberg said the city was "very lucky" that the storm was not expected to last longer.

"The areas now designated as red zone have probably fared worse than in the past," he said.

The Heathcote River had breached its banks in several areas, flooding roads, Beuzenberg said.

The council had closed Hunter Tce, Eastern Tce and Waimea Tce due to the flooding, along with Oxford Tce from Barbadoes St to Fitzgerald Ave and Maces Rd from Ruru Rd to Wickham St.

Beuzenberg said the council did not expect any issues to arise from high tide last night.

In Richmond, Kate Evans was waiting for the rain to halt so she could start to clear about 30 centimetres of water out of her garage after the Dudley Stream burst its banks.

Evans said the stream had narrowed by 65cm after the city's earthquakes, while the riverbed had risen by about 50cm.

The family had put up plywood and sandbags as flood protection before yesterday's rain, but it had not been enough to keep the deluge out.

The conditions also made life more difficult for drivers.

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Police said there had been nine crashes in Christchurch by 5pm yesterday, slightly above average. None had caused serious injuries.

Christchurch Central area commander Inspector Derek Erasmus said many motorists had adjusted their driving to the conditions, but encouraged them to keep taking care on the city's quake-hit roads.

By 4pm yesterday 47mm of rain had fallen since midnight.

It was the city's wettest day since May 26 last year, when 55.6mm of rain fell.

The southerly had been cold enough to bring heavy snow down to about 700m, with 80cm settling around Tekapo township, McDavitt said.

- The Press

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