River rescue in sodden chaos

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2013
oxford weather
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

RESCUED: The Oxford Fire Brigade were called out to rescue a family trapped in the river.

river rescue
KIRK HARGREAVES
RESCUED: Oxford volunteer firefighters use an extension ladder to rescue a family from Eyre River.
Shelley Bush
KIRK HARGREAVES
SAFE AND DRY: Shelley Bush and daughter Kourtney, 2, had to be rescued from their car after getting stuck in the Eyre River, near Oxford.

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New Zealanders are grappling with horrendous summer weather with slips, flooding and a tornado keeping emergency services under pressure and one Canterbury family almost swept away by a swollen river.

Yesterday, the North Island was hammered by severe conditions.

The South Island was also hit hard - firefighters were called to help with a slip near Marahau in the Tasman Region which blocked one lane of the Sandy Bay-Marahau Rd.

They also rushed to save a family from a car stuck in a Canterbury river.

Last night, parts of the South Island were set for thunderstorms with severe downpours forecast in parts of the Canterbury high country, inland Otago and Southland.

A reprieve is unlikely early today with another front set to move in about midday, bringing heavier rain.

But it may clear this evening, leaving a fine New Year's Eve for most of the South Island, MetService duty forecaster Melissa Roux said.

Yesterday, Scott Campbell, fiancee Shelley Bush and their children Zac, 3, and Kourtney, 2, were almost washed away by the roaring Eyre River.

The family were heading to Oxford in North Canterbury to buy groceries. Like many locals, they normally ducked through the ford across Eyre River as a quick way to get to town.

Campbell said the barrier arms were open and they watched another car go across before them.

About halfway across, their four-wheel drive hit a "deep patch" and got stuck.

Campbell tried reversing out but the current carried them downstream. Campbell estimated they moved 20 or 30 metres.

The children were screaming and while they waited for help Campbell initially got all the family out of the sunroof to escape as the water lapped the windows.

But the vehicle was still moving and the family dived back in for safety.

Oxford volunteer fire brigade chief fire officer Trevor Elam said the car was swept off the road into the main stream of the river and was left in a "precarious position".

Volunteer firefighters secured the car with ropes, then used an extension ladder to help the family out of the car.

Elam said the area had received

about 70mm of rain since Christmas Day, causing the river to rise.

He thought the holiday season might have delayed workers blocking off the road.

The car was winched out of the river.

Meanwhile, the weather may have contributed to a high reading of E. coli, which led to a "boil water" notice being issued for Darfield residents.

Heavy rain may have contaminated the sample, said Selwyn District Council water services team leader Andy Olivier.

Some Christchurch businesses have also been hit by the weather.

Browsers cafe and backyard bar owner Flick Holmes has closed her bar section until January 7 as the constant rain had made it too miserable to entice people in off the street.

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But campers are pushing ahead with their holiday plans.

Gwenda Bowman, of Kaiteriteri Beach motor camp, said the rain had not deterred campers.

Okains Bay Camping Ground co-owner Darren Wallis-Hartley said things were "a little bit wet" but campers were staying optimistic.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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