Storm batters the country

Hundreds sheltered in Akaroa school gym

Last updated 21:21 13/10/2012
The road to Milford Sounds is closed after a landslide closed State Highway 94 between Falls Creek and Monkey Creek.
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The road to Milford Sound is closed after a landslide closed State Highway 94 between Falls Creek and Monkey Creek.

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LATEST: A storm battering the country has left hundreds of cruise boat passengers stranded overnight in Akaroa, uprooted trees and caused power outages as it travels across the country.

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About 700 passengers from the Sea Princess cruise ship were given shelter in the Akaroa Area School gymnasium, as the rough conditions made it too difficult for them to return to the ship berthed in the harbour.

Bruce Hyland, owner of the Maison de la Mer lodge, said he had been contacted by the cruise company to see if any of the passengers could be accommodated tonight.

"The ship came in this morning like it usually does, and the tourist all did their usual thing, looking around the area.

"But by 10am the weather was looking pretty nasty. Their ship is right in the middle of the harbour so it would be tough to get them on board in this."

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism spokesperson Caroline Blanchfield said hundreds of passengers were being accommodated overnight in Akaroa and Christchurch. She said about 200 beds in Christchurch were required for the night.

Blanchfield said the situation was being handled well and that the Akaroa community had rallied together to accommodate the passengers.

The Christchurch City Council confirmed that civil defence welfare staff gave passengers food and something to drink at the school. An Akaroa pharmacy also opened after hours to provide essential medication to those who needed it.

The passengers from the United States and Europe were then taken to overnight accommodation in Akaroa and Christchurch and will reboard the ship tomorrow morning, weather allowing.

RISING RIVER LEVELS

The Old Waimakariri Bridge was closed this afternoon due to high rainfall and rising river levels. The Christchurch City Council says river levels will be monitored and the Old Waimakariri Bridge will be reopened when it is safe to do so.

This does not affect the main Waimakariri Bridge on State Highway One.

At least seven centimeters of fresh snow has been recorded at the custodians hut at Broken River ski field as a series of complex low pressure systems bring gales, rain and snow across the country.

Farmers and tourists might be miserable but skiiers in Christchurch are already planning a trip to the club field for some night skiing. However police have warned motorists travelling around the South Island to be careful.

Tourists who arrived in Akaroa this morning on the Sea Princess, the first of the season's cruise ships to dock, had a wet welcome to the village.

Heavy rain contuines to lash Christchurch as the MetService predicts more rain will fall over the region with isolated thunderstorms and snow lowering to 400metres.

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Police are urging high-sided vehicles to take extreme care on West Coast roads in the South Island, particularly from Harihari through to Franz Josef on State Highway 6. A number of trucks have already had to pull to the side of the road due to the hazardous conditions. Surface flooding is also causing issues for motorists.

Caravans, campervans and motorcyclists are urged to postpone their travels until weather conditions improve.

The forecast for Nelson, Marlborogh and Canterbury is rain expected to ease overnight and clear tomorrow morning with gale northwesterlies turning southerly this afternoon, severe near the east coast for a time.

The rain is also believed to be a contributing factor to a landslip on to Milford Rd in the South Island, that has forced the only road into Milford Sound to close.

Rocks the size of cars plunged down the hillside and have blocked Milford Rd, the only road access into the popular tourist destination.

The massive landslip occurred overnight and the New Zealand Transport Agency was responding to the slip today, police south communications shift commander Lindsay Turner said.

Landslips and avalanches aren't uncommon in the area, but the size of the boulders that came tumbling down the hillside last night were significant, New Zealand Transport Agency Southland area manager Peter Robinson said.

"Some of the rocks are estimated to be 200 tonnes. They're three quarters of the width of the road," he said.

"Slips of this type are not uncommon. They do happen but in general the more common slips are much smaller."

The landslip stretches across 200 metres between Falls Creek and Monkey Creek. It occurred on the same site as the "Red Slip" which happened about 25 to 30 years ago, Robinson said.

There has been heavy rain in the area lately and NZTA decided to close the road last night due to an avalanche risk.

There were four avalanches and two smaller rock-slips on the road overnight, Robinson said.

Helicopters with geotech experts on board were canvassing the area today to determine whether there were any loose rocks perching at the top of the cliff, and the potential of further slips.

Once it has been determined that the area is stable to work in, equipment and staff will be brought in to start clearing the road. Some rocks will need to be broken up and it was too early to say when the road would be cleared, Robinson said.

Milford Sound Development Authority operations manager and Milford Community Trust trustee Andrew Welsh said residents and businesses were prepared for landslips and avalanches.

"Probably on an annual basis we allow for the road to be closed for two weeks a year," he said.

"It's not unusual. It's more of an inconvenience than anything."

People generally had two weeks worth of food, just in case, and flights in and out of Milford Sound allowed for people to get in or out if needed.

"We allow for it, we prepare for it."

The Met Service says the bad weather is the result of a deep, complex low moving eastwards across the New Zealand today bringing a very strong, moist north to northwest flow with heavy rain and gales to many parts of the country.

The West Coast of the South Island and the Southern Alps have already received very significant rainfall amounts, and more than 100mm may yet accumulate in the ranges of Westland, Buller and Nelson.

Rain should gradually clear from the south this afternoon and evening, as colder southerlies sweep northwards and rain turns to snow about the hills and ranges.

In addition to this warning, a Heavy Snow Advisory for the Canterbury High Country is is force, along with a Severe Weather Watch.

Northwest gales have eased in Canterbury, but north to northwest gales may reach severe gale force gusting 130km/h from Marlborough to Gisborne, as the low moves across the country.

At the same time, southeast gales are expected to develop in Westland towards midday, sweeping northwards during the day, with the risk of severe gale gusts in exposed places.

As the low redevelops off the Canterbury coast and deepens this afternoon, southwest gales with severe gale gusts are expected about Banks Peninsula and the Kaikoura Coast

This is a significant rainfall and wind event. Members of the public are urged to be wary and exercise caution as rivers and streams (especially on the West Coast) are expected to rise rapidly and slips and localised surface flooding could occur. Rivers east of the South Island are also likely to rise in response to the heavy rain falling in the Alps.

- Fairfax Media

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