25 Jul 2011

Snow eases in parts of south, but ice returns

11:07 pm on 25 July 2011

Transport problems are easing for people in the South Island, but police are warning that the extreme weather conditions still present serious hazards to drivers.

Dozens of roads in the lower South Island and Canterbury were closed from Sunday due to heavy snow falls.

MetService says the storm may be the worst since 1995.

The Transport Agency says as of Monday afternoon it had reopened all major highways and the only ones still closed were lesser highways in Southland and Otago.

It warned, however, melting snow was expected to freeze overnight, which could create treacherous, icy conditions. It is still recommending people travel only if it is essential, and then only in 4WD vehicles and chains.

Agency national operations manager Dave Bates says crews worked all day to clear roads but snow was still falling heavily in some areas, meaning work was difficult.

AA spokesperson Simon Lambourne says a number of people who have met with trouble have done so because they don't know how to drive in the icy conditions


Airports out

Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin Airport all cleared their runways of snow, and limited flights resumed.

Most flights in and out Christchurch remained cancelled, with only a Pacific Blue flight from Sydney due to land, at midnight.

Airport spokesperson Monique Oomen says blankets were distributed to people stranded at the airport.

Ms Oomen says a decision on whether flights will resume on Tuesday would depend on the weather conditions and amount of ice on the runway.

Christchurch Airport incident controller Geoff Eban says staff tried to clear snow from the runways and aircraft parking areas for much of the day with snow ploughs and a grader, but each time they did so, more snow fell.

Power out

Lines company Orion's general manager, commercial, Rob Jamieson, says pockets of Tai Tapu, the Summit Road, and Burkes Bush were still without power on Monday evening. All but 10 were expected to be re-connected.

He was confident the network could cope with the extra load as people used heatpumps and other heaters more during the night.

The Fire Service reported power lines down in Christchurch and Rakaia, while tree branches fell on to roads with the weight of snow.

St John Ambulance attended 19 incidents, in which people were injured by slipping on ice or snow, around the South Island during the morning.

In Christchurch, where Radio New Zealand reporters measured snow as deep as 15cm, it was falling as fast as contractors could clear it on major routes, including around the four avenues.

Some firms reported only a handful of staff made it to work.