West Coasters remain cut off

Last updated 12:53 03/01/2013
The Neil family, from left, Alex, 8, Ruth and Barry, struggle with a tent during strong gusts at their Lower Hutt campground.
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The Neil family, from left, Alex, 8, Ruth and Barry, struggle with a tent during strong gusts at their Lower Hutt campground.

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A key West Coast road forced to close after a bridge washout could remain shut for several days, while several other highways are temporarily out of action in the aftermath of wild weather.

The Wanganui River bridge near Harihari was washed out at one end yesterday, forcing the closure of State Highway 6, the main road along the West Coast.

NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesman Ewart Barnsley said structural engineers assessed the bridge this morning to determine the extent of the damage.

He said a Bailey bridge was on standby to provide temporary access, but a decision on whether to use it could not be made until the engineers' report was received.

SH73 reopened this morning after sections of the road were closed from Cass through Arthur's Pass to Otira.

However, flooding had forced the temporary closure of SH69 from Inangahua to Reefton and SH65 from O'Sullivans to Springs Junction.

The Christchurch City Council said today the old Waimakariri Bridge was closed yesterday afternoon because of high river levels.

It was expected that the bridge would reopen by the end of the week, once the water level subsided and the structure could be checked.
 
The closure did not affect the main Waimakariri Bridge on SH1.

Barnsley said eight vehicles trapped in the lower Buller Gorge yesterday by two slips were safely removed, with the last cars driving out about 11pm.

Snow adds to wild weather

Unseasonal snow has joined the wild and wet weather chaos in many parts of New Zealand, particularly the South Island, with holidaymakers stranded and key services knocked out.

Several days of heavy rain compounded yesterday, with the West Coast and Fiordland bearing the brunt of the storm.

In Central Otago this morning, people trapped by heavy snowfall were rescued from the Lindis Pass.

Several cars had to be abandoned in the area and a police communications spokesman said the heavy snowfall meant it was slow going on SH8.

Snow had fallen to relatively low levels in parts of South Canterbury, with hills surrounding Timaru receiving a white coating.

Overnight, Westport received more than 76 millimetres of rain at the airport.

MetService duty forecaster Philippa Murdoch said there was an "easing trend" to the bad weather and aside from a few showers in the Westport region this afternoon, the rain was expected to clear by early tomorrow.

The washout of the Wanganui River bridge severed a key fibre-optic cable, cutting most methods of communication between about 1000 Westland homes and the rest of the country.

Snap chief executive Mark Petrie said the outage had also prevented residents from making 111 calls, although a technician with a satellite phone was monitoring the phone exchange to ensure emergency calls were put through.

Telecom spokeswoman Kate Woodruffe said cell towers at Fox Glacier, Franz Josef and Mt Hercules had been damaged by the storm.

With access into the towns blocked, technicians would have to wait until it was safe to be helicoptered in to assess and repair the damage.

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Crews in Harihari and Whataroa had checked on residents in the two West Coast towns, while the Fire Service had attended about five calls in Hokitika for flooding and helped move people's property to higher ground.

Police called for the evacuation of huts and low-lying areas around the Rakaia River, with flooding making the river "extremely dangerous".

Environment Canterbury South Canterbury duty flood controller Tony Henderson said the Waitaki and Rangitata rivers had risen about 500mm in 48 hours.

The Rangitata went from an average of less than 100 cubic metres per second to 1800 cumecs in less than 18 hours.

Henderson expected the river levels to drop as the weather system moved north today.

More than 100 trampers stranded on the Milford Track managed to resume their walks yesterday after riding out the weather in Department of Conservation huts.

MetService duty forecaster Alistair Gorman said 440mm of rain had fallen in Milford Sound over the past two days, with parts of the West Coast recording totals of up to 500mm. The weather was expected to ease today.

Demand for beds as floodwater rises

Beds in Arthur's Pass were in demand last night after floodwater trapped tourists.

Sections of SH73 closed yesterday after becoming swamped, stranding people between Bealey and Jacksons.

A Czech visitor stranded in the Arthurs Pass overnight says the wild weather which trapped visitors has given him a great appreciation of New Zealand's "tricky" nature.

Jan Pleskac was among motorists stuck in the township last night after flooding forced the closure of sections of State Highway 73.

Pleskac, who is in the country on a working holiday, was forced to turn back and take shelter in Arthurs Pass after the section of highway he was driving on became flooded.

"There was a small queue of cars in front of the water: some of them tried to pass and succeeded, but the smaller cars with the lower gears, they got stuck in the middle of the water there."

After the cars were pulled out of the water, officials ordered the motorists to turn back to Arthurs Pass for the night.
"Everyone was stuck: there were lots of people, lots of cars, campervans, and lots of waterfalls."

While having to stay inside cafes and restaurants had been boring for the tourists Pleskac said he had tried to make the most of the unexpected stay.

"For me, because I'm interested in the outdoors and nature, it was much more interesting than annoying...I never realised nature could be so tricky," he said.

Arthur's Pass Cafe & Store owner Alison Ruddenklau said tourists were forced to stay overnight when the roads on either side of the township closed.

"There's not a bed left in town," she said.

The backpackers, bed and breakfast and the motels were full of stranded holidaymakers, although some had planned to be there at this time.

Ruddenklau said the town had been hammered by rain for the past six days. "We have got waterfalls I have never seen before."

Jacksons Historic Tavern manager Anita Andrews said she knew it was going to flood when nine waterfalls could be seen.

"If there's seven [waterfalls] then you're OK, but if there's nine you're in flood," she said.

Andrews, who has worked in Jackson for nearly five years, said it was unusual to have a heavy deluge at this time of year.

The tavern fed "the stragglers" while they decided whether to wait out the rain or take a different route to their destination, she said.

Bealey Hotel manager Marshall Deaker said the Waimakariri River had risen the quickest he had ever seen.

"We have got a few people stranded here. We have had cancellations of people who can't get here and rooms filling up just as quickly with people who can't go," he said.

Deaker hoped it would clear today because the hotel had a wedding booked for Saturday.

- The Press

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