Rising rivers close South Island roads

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 20:48 02/01/2013

Hokitika river levels rising

SlideshowWanganui Bridge at Harihari


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Up to eight vehicles are trapped in the lower Buller Gorge after heavy rain caused two slips.

Police said eight vehicles are currently trapped between the two slips on State Highway 6, between Inangahua Junction and Westport.

The trapped people were safe and unharmed, a spokesman said.

The slips were caused by heavy rain late this afternoon.

A NZ Transport Agency spokesman said the exact number of vehicles trapped could be lower, and contractors were working from both sides to get the trapped people out as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, residents did not have to evacuate low-lying areas along the Rakaia River after the water levels peaked following wild weather in parts of the South Island.

Earlier today, a police spokesman said the Rakaia River was extremely dangerous as water levels were rising very quickly with water almost across the road on the northern side of the Rakaia Gorge Bridge.

He said anyone in the Rakaia huts should get out before more rain hit this evening.

Rakaia Huts resident Clarke Wilkes said the river peaked at 5246 cubic metres per second (cumecs) at 4.45pm. The water level was normally at about 1500 cumecs.

Wilkes said people had been discouraged from going to the river mouth on motorbikes and the main boat ramp had been cordoned off yesterday evening, but no one had needed to evacuate the village.

Today up to 1000 West Coast homes lost phone and internet access - including emergency calls.

A key fibre cable supplying telecommunication services to residents south of Harihari has been knocked out after heavy rainl caused the Wanganui River bridge to wash away at one end.

Snap chief executive Mark Petrie said the cable was used by nearly all telecommunication companies to provide services to the area, with about 1000 homes south of Harihari believed to be affected.

"They're completely isolated down there. They've lost phone, internet and mobile."

He said the outage would prevent residents from making 111 emergency calls.

Satellite phones could be used as a temporary fix, and a technician was likely to be monitoring the phone exchange for emergency calls.

Petrie said Chorus, which owned the cable, had said access could be restored by 10.30 tonight.

The bridge washout forced the closure of State Highway 6, the main road along the West Coast.

Police said the road could be closed for days, with the only detour a long one via Wanaka.

"They can't do anything [about the bridge] until the weather subsides because it's pretty rough over there," a police spokesman said.

Fire Service crews in Harihari and Whataroa had checked on residents in the two West Coast towns this morning.

The Fire Service had attended about five calls in Hokitika for flooding today and helped move people's property to higher ground.

ARTHUR'S PASS ROAD CLOSURES

Rescue crews are checking on tourists in Arthur's Pass as heavy rain continues to wreak havoc.

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Sections of State Highway 73 from Cass through Arthur's Pass to Otira are closed, with flooding on parts of the road and high winds causing several trees to fall and block some areas.

A Fire Service spokesman said a rescue crew was in the national park checking on tourists and locals to ensure they were keeping safe.

Christchurch residents could get a taste of the appalling conditions, with heavy rain, thunderstorms and hail a possibility when a squally southwesterly change sweeps through the city tonight.

MetService duty forecaster Alistair Gorman said Christchurch had been "on the periphery" of the worst weather, with heavy rain in the Southern Alps.

Gorman said a "squally change" would hit the city this evening, with a possibility of thunderstorms, brief periods of heavy rain, strong gusts of wind and hail.

Winds would also change from gusty northwesterlies to southwesterlies, causing "quite a drop" in the temperature.

The NZ Transport Agency is warning drivers, including those with campervans, on SH7 from Culverden to the Lewis Pass to be wary of high winds.

Gorman said the worst of the weather would be over by tomorrow, with only a few showers during the day as the weather settled down for the weekend.

Temperatures in the mid-20s were expected to return to the city on Saturday and Sunday.

Heavy rain in parts of the South Island, which had brought 440 millimetres of rain to Milford Sound and between 400mm and 500mm in parts of the West Coast, was starting to ease.

Gorman said the rain had "pretty much cleared" from Fiordland and would move out of the West Coast tonight, with only a few showers tomorrow.

A representative from the Department of Conservation visitors' centre in Arthur's Pass National Park said the centre had not received any reports of issues with trampers in the area.

While the tracks had not been closed, trampers were being advised not to use them because of the many river crossings in the park.

WELLINGTON AIRPORT BUFFETED BY STRONG WINDS

Passengers on an 11.30am Jetstar flight to Wellington were turned back to Auckland after a landing in the capital was aborted because of high winds.

Hundreds of people from the flight and other cancelled Jetstar flights are queuing at Auckland Airport for seats on the next plane to Wellington.

Jetstar flights from Christchurch to Wellington and Auckland also face delays. Details are available on the Christchurch Airport website.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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