4 Oct 2009

Army rescues motorists trapped by snow

11:04 pm on 4 October 2009

The army worked to free people trapped in their cars by heavy snow on central North Island roads on Sunday evening.

Authorities hoped to have reached everyone by about 10pm, but said anyone still trapped should keep warm and call 111 if they fear for their safety.

Those trapped along State Highway One near Waiouru were all evacuated by early evening, but those trapped on State Highway 5, the Napier-Taupo road, had a longer wait.

By 9pm 150 people had been taken to the Te Pohue Hotel, on the Napier side of the State Highway 5 summit, and 60 to the Te Pohue Hall.

Hastings Civil Defence controller Mike Maguire said that left another 50 people to evacuate, but he said the army was working as quickly as possible.

He said anyone still trapped needs to keep their cars running and flash their lights when they see the Army unimogs approaching.

A welfare centre has been set up by the Red Cross and Salvation Army in Eskdale, offering food and hot drinks.

New Zealand Transport Agency operations manager Dave Bates says the unseasonal snow caught a lot of motorists out.

He says the roads will not re-open until Monday.

The MetService says by Monday morning up to 20cm of snow may have accumulated in some areas of the central North Island.