North Canterbury homes and roads flood

Sections of SH1 shut in both directions

ANNA PEARSON, SIOBHAN DOWNES, NICOLE MATHEWSON AND CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 17:33 10/06/2014

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Christchurch motorists heading north face a hellish commute with State Highway 1 closed to all traffic.

The highway is closed to all cars from Waikuku to Amberley with extensive flooding in the area.

An average of 8700 vehicles travel on that stretch of road every day.

Four-wheel drives and freight vehicles are able to use State Highway 1, but cars must use a detour.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has opened a route at the Kowai River near Leithfield.


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NZ Transport Agency performance manager Pete Connors said manned road blocks would remain in place overnight.

"If flood waters recede, the highway will be re-opened," he said.

Wigram man Bryan McNabb, 66, navigated that section of road between 7am and 8am this morning when he was heading to Amberley to drop off a friend.

The NZ Transport Agency closed it after that and the 66-year-old said he could understand why.

"It should have been closed earlier. I negotiated my way through it in a Mazda Demio and trucks and traffic going in [the] opposite direction were causing waves big enough to surf on," he said.

''I was getting quite concerned. I have never driven through water that deep. It was quite scary. [The waves] were smashing right over the bonnet and over the top of the car. The wee car got a wash.''

Meanwhile detours are in place after a crash on Marshs Rd, Templeton, closed a southern section of SH1.

Connors also said flooding continued to worsen at Saltwater Creek.

"The Kowai River is now flowing across the highway at Leithfield making it no longer safe for any vehicles to be travelling on the highway," he said.

Kathy Graham, of the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre, said Chancellor St in Shirley was closed.

There was also heavy flooding on State Highway 73 between Sandy Knolls Rd and Hoskyns Rd in West Melton and State Highway 75 to Little River.

MetService spokesman John Law said between 80mm to 90mm of rain fell in Rangiora in 24 hours and about 50mm was recorded at Christchurch Airport.

A severe weather warning for Canterbury would remain in place for the rest of the day - particularly for the high country and the foothill, Law said.

The rain would continue tomorrow, but "not as much as we have seen today".

Connors said NZTA would review the State Highway 1 situation at 4pm, but safety was its top priority in determining whether it would re-open tonight.

For updates on state highway conditions and hazards call 0800 4 HIGHWAYS or visit www.highwayinfo.govt.nz.

Earlier, the Waimakariri District Council urged motorists to drive home before nightfall with flooding on the roads the worst police have seen.

Emergency operations centre controller Nick Harrison said it was difficult to assess the depth of surface flooding on roads at night. 

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"That can cause accidents. The conditions are currently hazardous on the roads and will become even more so when vision is limited by darkness."

The rain was forecast to ease later today, but the waterlogged ground would not allow for a quick return to normal driving conditions, the council said.

"I've never seen as much flooding on the roads as today," said police sergeant Colin Stewart.

"Unfortunately some people are driving at speed and creating waves which are pushing on to other people's property."

He urged motorists not to travel in the area unless unless they had to.

Waimakariri mayor David Ayers said today's flooding was "certainly significant". 

The district's emergency operations centre had been activated and two Civil Defence response teams had been brought in from Christchurch to help.

"The first priority is keeping the water out of houses," he said. 

"We have ordered sandbags from Christchurch and they'll be on standby if needed. We're advising people to stay off the roads."

The council's roading contractor, Sicon, was out checking roads across the district - many of which could only be used by "high clearance" vehicles. 

"We're getting very short of flooding signs. People need to be very careful therefore."

Ayers said parts of the district had flooded several times this year because of high rainfalls. 

"We've had considerable amounts of rain over the last two or three months. Kaiapoi in March had three times the average rainfall and in April it had five times the average."

Groundwater levels in the Swannanoa area were also sitting at "record levels", he said.

"What we've got is saturated soils, so when we get a lot of rain - and we've had a lot - it runs straight off the top."

Ayers said the council was treating the flooding issues as a "very high priority". 

"There are areas of our district that are historic swamps - Flaxton, Fernside, just think of their names. Obviously there's been a lot of drainage put in over the last 100 years . . . but they are low-lying. 

"These are issues that have been around for a long time."

He did not believe new developments in areas like west Rangiora were making the flooding worse, saying the new subdivisions were designed to cope with extra water using methods like retention basins.

Much of the floodwater was coming from rural areas, not subdivisions, he said. 

"We'll certainly look at the performance of all our retention basins and drains and have been since March."

The council had been working on flooding issues in low-lying areas like south-west Kaiapoi "for decades", but the Canterbury earthquakes had caused new issues. 

"Certainly a major drain, the Dudley Drain, was affected by the earthquake. We've certainly got areas of Kaiapoi that are lower because of the earthquakes."

Ayers said the council might need to consider creating a team to fast-track flooding solutions, similar to what the Christchurch City Council had done for dealing with recurring flooding in the Flockton Basin area. 

"The problems aren't easy to fix. We have to be careful that we're not just putting the water somewhere else," he said.

REST HOME EVACUATED, DRIVER RESCUED


A welfare centre has opened in Rangiora after heavy rain flooded homes and forced 21 elderly people to evacuate their rest home.

The residents were evacuated from Bainlea House on Wiltshire Court early this morning after their property began to flood.

St John spokesman Ian Henderson said the flooding was caused by a nearby stream breaching its banks.

None of the rest home residents were injured, but St John was assessing residents as they were evacuated.

Ambulance officers and firefighters were using two ambulances to move the residents to a welfare centre opened in the Rangiora Baptist Church on East Belt. 

The residents were being cared for at the church by rest home staff and Canterbury District Health Board staff, Henderson said.  

Waimakariri mayor David Ayers understood the residents evacuated were unlikely to return to their rest home tonight.

Alternative accommodation has since been arranged for them.

Firefighters had to rescue a driver in North Canterbury this morning after he ignored road closure signs on SH1.

Fire Service southern communications shift manager Brent Dunn said the male driver was rescued about 10.40am. 

"He was fine, it was just that he'd got his car stuck," Dunn said.

"State Highway 1 is a pretty significant route, so when that closes it makes things difficult. There are diversions available so people will be able to use those."

The Fire Service had received about 20 calls for help with flooded properties this morning, mostly in Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Woodend. 

The jobs followed another 15 calls for help overnight, mostly in Rangiora. 

Dunn said extra fire crews from Christchurch had gone to Rangiora to help today.

Police southern communications spokesman Lindsay Turner said police had not had received any weather-related emergency calls, but flooding had been reported throughout North Canterbury.

WATER SHUTS GARDEN CENTRE

Water had flooded the garden centre at Rangiora's Mitre 10 Mega.

Retail manager Neil Walker said the garden centre was closed off to the public for safety reasons.

"I'm wading round in it as we speak. It's probably got a good foot of water."

The Southbrook Creek outside the store had breached its banks, and the floodwaters were within 25mm of entering the shop, he said.

Staff had sandbagged the entrances and the store remained opened to the public though.

"We're pretty quiet though. We've had a few calls from staff who can't make it in."

'THE CREEK IS ROARING'

Kate Cane, who has lived on Marshmans Rd, between Ashley and Sefton, for about 11 years, said she had never seen so much water in nearby Stony Creek. 

"You can hear this kind of roar and it's actually the water," she said.

"Normally it's just a trickle. This is the worst I've seen it."

Cane decided to stay home today rather than drive through flooded roads to her workplace in Rangiora. 

"I hummed and harred, but thought why put your life at risk. It's not worth it."

WARNINGS FOR DRIVERS

Police issued a warning about significant flooding on Tram Rd and State Highway 1 near the Ashley River.

Water had pooled on several low areas of the roads and motorists were warned to slow down and take care.

Local authorities and NZ Transport Agency had road crews out erecting signage to warn drivers.

The Ashley Bridge was closed at Cones Rd, Rangiora, just after midnight today due to rapidly rising river levels. 

Lower Sefton Rd, a diversion route for those who would normally use the Ashley Bridge, is under water. Cars trapped in the deep water have been towed out.

The old Waimakariri Bridge remained open.

MORE RAIN TO COME

MetService forecaster Matthew Ford said 46.6 mm of rain had been recorded at Christchurch Airport over the last 24 hours.

Timaru recorded 20mm of rain during the same period, while Ashburton recorded 22.6mm, Methven recorded 62mm, Porters Pass recorded 31.6mm and Culverden recorded 15.8mm.

"We expect the rain to continue during the morning. It should ease gradually during the afternoon," Ford said.

More drizzle was forecast for Christchurch tomorrow, as easterly winds continued "feeding in rain and cloud". 

CIVIL DEFENCE KEPT BUSY

Waimakariri Civil Defence emergency management officer Karen Wolbers said staff and volunteers had been busy helping flooded residents since 10.50pm yesterday.

"We started off with calls from Rangiora about flooded properties and culverts and drains being blocked."

The worst-hit areas included central Rangiora, Woodend, Tuahiwi, Ashley and Ohoka.

"Many many people would have had garages and driveways and properties [flooded], but the number of people with water actually in their homes we hope is not high," she said.

"I've had up to 20 calls with possibly half of those concerned about water coming in to their homes."

She encouraged anyone whose property had been flooded to visit the welfare centre set up at the Rangiora Baptist Church on East Belt today. 

Road closures were likely, but the full extent of the flooding would not be known until roading staff were able to get out into the district, Wolbers said.

Motorists were urged to avoid nonessential travel.

"We've had our wonderful volunteers out there helping us. We've just been able to deal with people who haven't been able to stay in their homes because of flooding, that's all we've been able to do [so far]."

SCHOOL CLOSURES

Clarkville Primary School would be was closed today, with a notice on the school's Facebook page saying "even gumboots won't cut it".

"We have flooding in the school grounds and our septic system is compromised," the notice said. 

Ashley School and Sefton School were also closed today because of heavy rain overnight. 

Rangiora Borough School principal Alan Sutton said the school would remain open today, but the Queens St gates would be closed because of the flooding.

"We've got surface flooding throughout the school. It's still pouring down out here, but at the moment we are [staying open]."

Rangiora High School is also closed.

A notice on its website warned that some buses would not be available for the school run this morning though because they were used to evacuate residents overnight. 

Ashgrove School would be open today with "wet weather gear and gumboots required"

Tuahiwi School teacher Leona Chambers said the nearby Church Bush Rd had become "really flooded", but most people were waiting for more light to see how wet the ground was.

"We've had a couple of kids call in; they're staying home because of flooding."

- The Press

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