31 Jul 2008

Lower South Island braces for storm

10:31 pm on 31 July 2008

The latest storm to hit New Zealand has left at least one person dead and more destruction in its wake. Civil Defence teams are on alert in Canterbury and eastern Otago as the storm moves through the lower half of the South Island.

Major highways and rail lines in the South Island were closed on Thursday night, and people have been forced to evacuate their homes due to serious flooding and slips.

The storm is not expected to ease until Friday, with MetService forecasting a series of smaller fronts to follow in its wake for the north and western parts of the North Island.

MetService has also issued a heavy rainfall warning for south Canterbury and eastern Otago until Friday morning and residents have been told to prepare for flooding.

Residents in Torbay on Auckland's North Shore and at Amberley Beach near Christchurch have had to be evacuated because of slips and floods caused by the storm.

On Thursday, police again suspended the search for Kerry Michael Witt, 40, of Kawakawa, believed to have drowned in floodwaters near Russell in the Bay of Islands. Police say the search will resume on Friday, weather permitting. The body of Mr Witt's wife, Lavona Cherrington, 49, was found on Wednesday.

Flood warning for Otago

Residents of eastern parts of Otago have been warned to prepare for potential flooding before nightfall on Thursday, following a heavy rain warning.

The Otago Regional Council is monitoring the situation closely and has activated first alarms for the Kakanui and Shag rivers.

Resource science manager Matt Hickey says levels at Silverstream, Water of Leith, and the Tokomairiro River are causing concern.

Otago Regional Council staff will be monitoring conditions throughout the night.

Rivers rise in Canterbury

In Canterbury, rivers rose rapidly throughout Thursday, as rain continued to fall across the region.

The Selwyn River south of Christchurch is of concern, as it wil not peak in some areas until midnight.

Warnings are in place for residents who live along the Avon and Healthcote rivers, and at Styx Mill and New Brighton.

The settlement of Amberley Beach was evacuated about 2pm, but most residents were allowed to return home in the evening.

Police are advising people who do not need to travel to stay off the roads throughout Canterbury.

Marlborough and Nelson

A state of emergency was lifted in Marlborough on Thursday afternoon.

Thirty-five people in Picton were evacuated on Wednesday night from a camping ground and from houses near a flooded creek.

Marlborough's Mayor Alistair Sowman said volunteers and police did a superb job of saving many homes from flood damage and all but three families should be back in their homes on Thursday night.

Marlborough Lines company is dealing with power outages in the Rai Valley and Canvastown.

In Nelson, people are being advised to conserve water supplies due to damage to the city's main water pipe on Thursday.

Nelson City Council says householders should cut their usage by at least 70% and not use washing machines and dishwashers. Fixing the pipe could take two days as fallen trees have to be removed first.

Horowhenua without power

Horowhenua customers of power company Electra could be without power until Saturday after strong winds brought down power lines on Wednesday.

Electra says 1000 rural customers are without power in areas including Horowhenua, Tokomaru, Kapiti, Manakau and Ohau, and the company is working to fix the problem.

Dairy farmers have been without power to milk their cows since Wednesday. The Horowhenua District Council says farmers who have problems with milk supply should call Fonterra.

Hawke's Bay water warning

Residents in central Hawke's Bay have been told to boil their drinking water until further notice. On Wednesday, the district council increased the chlorine level in the water supply to Waipukurau and Waipawa because of concern that flooding may have contaminated supplies.

Residents of Waipawa and Otane should boil all tap water used for drinking until tests prove that water from the Waipawa River is safe. Three days of clear tests are needed before the council can give residents the all-clear.

Main roads closed

Transit says State Highway 1 from Kaikoura to Cheviot is closed on Thursday night due to a landslip, and will not reopen until Friday morning.

State Highway 1 between Oamaru and Maheno is closed.

One lane of State Highway 1 from Blenheim to Kaikoura has reopened, as has State Highway 1 from Ashburton to Rakaia, but care is needed.

All other highways in the region are open, but surface flooding, slips, fallen trees and debris are making driving difficult.

In the North Island, flooding has closed State Highway 25 to Whangapoua in the Coromandel, State Highway 56 in Opiki in Horowhenua and State Highway 53 Martinborough to Waihenga Bridge in Wairarapa.

Interislander ferries are still sailing, but travellers are warned of road closures and disruptions on the main highway south. Transit says passengers can travel south via Nelson and the Lewis Pass, but the road is very difficult.

South Island rail lines closed

In the South Island, slips, washouts, rocks on the line, and blocked culverts have closed rail lines or disrupted some services.

The Christchurch-Picton line is closed on Thursday and may not re-open until Saturday.

The Christchurch-Invercargill line (the Main South Line) is closed between Studholm and Dunedin.

In North Otago and South Canterbury, there is flooding between Glenavy and Studholm, and at Herbert.

Earlier slips between Picton and Blenheim are likely to be cleared by Thursday night.

The slip in the Buller Gorge that closed the Stillwater-Westport Line on Wednesday has been cleared and the line is open.

In the North Island, the only line affected is the Palmerston North-Gisborne line, which is expected to re-open on Thursday evening.