West Coast climate chaos continues as warning prolonged

The torrential rain that has been causing chaos in the West Coast since yesterday, leading to the death of a woman in a swollen river, is forecast to continue for just a little while longer.

A weather warning has been extended until about now for Westland and 3pm this afternoon for Buller and Western Nelson as the front moves north.

About 60 dairy farmers are cut off due to road closures, meaning milk trucks have been unable to reach them and some will have to dump milk today.

Otago Civil Defence and Emergency Management says rockfalls have been reported on some Central Otago roads.

The Otago Regional Council confirmed the Manuherikia, Clutha and Taieri rivers are still rising after heavy rainfall.

Both lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka rose overnight and water levels continue to increase.

The council’s natural hazards manager, Ben Mackey, said no significant flooding was expected based on the current forecast, but it shouldn’t be ruled out.

Mr Mackey said falling river levels could rise again quickly even with a little rain, and extra care should be taken around them.

A couple in the West Coast town of Hari Hari were facing a huge clean-up this afternoon after a creek ended up flowing right through the middle of their property yesterday.

It deposited a foot of silt and debri over their garden and inside their garage and ripped up their driveway.

The couple, Helen Clarkson and her husband, battled to divert as much of the water as possible away from their home using old tyres and pieces of wood.

“We went out and diverted the water that was coming through the garage towards the house. So we tried to stop any more from running under the house because it’s built up silt and loosened piles.”

Ms Clarkson said they were now waiting for the water to recede from around their house so they could begin the massive job of removing all of the silt and debri.

Earlier today, Westland Civil Defence spokesperson Andy Thompson told Morning Report the rain would remain heavy.

“We’re still expecting some significant rainfall for the next couple of hours.”

He said the road conditions around the regions are “still very suspect” and urged drivers to be very careful.

Contractors will be out on the roads to check the situation around the region.

However, he said there is slips, and potentially undercutting of roads.

“There are some local roads around the Hokitika and South Westland district that are still closed due to flooding, surface flooding, some streams burst their banks as well.”

And he said: “Any travellers will just have to hold in place or head North.”

The fire brigade was out in force in the early hours of the morning, between 1am and 2am, pumping water away from some of the houses in the region, Mr Thompson said.

“The emergency services did their job in the middle of the night and in some pretty trying conditions, did a pretty good job.”

The has been minor flooding in areas including Kaniere, but the Hokitika River has held and water levels are falling, he said.

MetService said the rain has now eased at Haast, south of the glaciers, and the weather front is moving north.

It said rain is beginning to turn to snow in the Canterbury High Country.

Ten to 20cm of snow is expected above 800m, south of Arthur’s Pass.

Road snow warnings are in place from Arthur’s Pass to Wanaka.

Westland Civil Defence Controller Simon Bastion said the heavy rain was forecast to ease, but that doesn’t mean the danger was over.

“Obviously as the waters recede, sometimes the damage occurs then so obviously there’s going to be some banks around the river mouth and the river itself, just advise… anyone close to be very careful.”

Mr Bastion said the road to the West Coast over Arthur’s Pass would remain closed until at least midday on Monday.

There is concern that when the snow melts, it will add more water to already full rivers.

The Waimakariri River is in flood and has inundated a Fulton Hogan yard north of Christchurch.

Residents are being reassured that both bridges across the Waimakariri River north of Christchurch are perfectly safe.

Heavy rain has brought river levels close to the road and caused flooding to areas of land within the river banks.

The Transport Agency is monitoring the bridges closely and the Waimakariri District Council says the rain is beginning to ease and the river level is beginning to drop.

South Westland Area School in Hokitika remains closed due to road closures and slips in the region.

And Westland High School are advising students that if they’re unable to make it to NCEA exams because of the weather conditions, that they should ring the school.

Roading engineers will also be on the ground assessing the damage.

State Highway 6 has reopened between Hokitika and Fox Glacier, while State Highway 73 is blocked at Otira due to a major washout just before Goat Creek Bridge in Arthur’s Pass.

It’s expected SH73 could be closed for days or weeks in order to repair the bridge and motorists are being urged to use the Lewis Pass to get between Christchurch and the West Coast.

The heavy rain has also hampered travel for tourists and forced some West Coast businesses to close for several days.

Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell said many adventure businesses had not been able to operate and tourists were frustrated by the weather.

Mr Jewell said it was not unusual to have to close due to severe weather, but he had not seen such heavy rain for a long time.

He hopes to be up and running again by tomorrow.

But Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said the industry learned to adapt to changeable weather, and the region would recover quickly.

Mr Little said stranded tourists were looked after and there was still accommodation available most places.

Earlier today, the flooding had blocked SH6, stranding hundreds of tourists in Franz Josef overnight and the town remained cut off to the north and the south.

River levels on the West Coast are very high and the authorities are continuing to monitor water levels closely.

A group of 26 students and three staff from Otago Boys’ High School who were forced to spend the night in a hut in Mt Aspiring National Park, after being cut off by floodwaters, are expected to walk out today.

They are reportedly safe and have plenty of supplies.