14 May 2015

Capital commuters scramble for home

7:50 pm on 14 May 2015

Wellington is in chaos from flooding tonight, with people warned against trying to get home as both highways and trains are severely hit.

Most road and rail links in and out of the capital are closed, and those that are open are painfully slow. At one stage, the only way out was a circuitous route north on State Highway 1 until Paremata, then taking the Haywards Hill Road through to the Hutt Valley.

People struck in Wellington overnight because of the rain storms battering the region are being urged to call the Wellington City Council if they can't find accommodation.

The mayor Celia Wade Brown said the council's welfare team would be helping people struck in the city to find a place to stay.

Flooding forced the closure of Wellington Railway Station, so no trains were running in or out of the capital until at least tomorrow afternoon.

Commuters head into Wellington Railway Station.

Commuters head into Wellington Railway Station. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Gillies

A dozen schools in the region closed early, and some expected to be closed tomorrow.

The rain was easing after 117 millimetres fell in Kapiti in 24 hours, and 96 millimetres in Lower Hutt - but more was expected tomorrow.

Stranded in the city, Petone commuter and mother of two Helen van Rijswijk took to a private boat across the harbour to Eastbourne.

"It's just a guy who has hired the boat, charging people $10 for the trip and he's taking them over to Eastborne," she told Checkpoint.

"There's 80 people on this boat and I was the second-to-last person allowed on.

"I live in Alicetown and there's no buses, no trains, so it was stay at work or try to get home one way or another. I didn't fancy sleeping the night in the office."

Wet commuters in the capital.

It was a wet trip home for those in the capital. Photo: RNZ / Alex van Wel

Abby Field, who was attempting her usual 40-minute trip from Wellington to Paremata got stuck in motorway traffic for three hours - at one stage not moving for nearly an hour.

"I've seen people walking past me, people get out and stretch and just kind of take in the rain," she said.

She had seen people driving up the bank and on to the southbound motorway lane to try to get home.

"I haven't seen it this bad, I don't think, ever."

Commuters wait in vain for news at Wellington Railway Station.

Commuters wait in vain for news at Wellington Railway Station. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Gillies

People at a Lower Hutt marae were frantically trying to bail out rainwater.

The water started pouring into Kokiri Marae at about midday and people have been using pillows and mattresses as sandbags to try to soak up the water.

Marae general manager Tina Olsen-Ratana said there was alarm as the waters rose, and the babies in its kohanga reo were evacuated first.

Everyone was alarmed as the water seeped through the walls, reaching up to the adults' knees.

"People were out there with buckets - any container we could find was being used to try and bucket it away," she said.

"It was like being on a sinking ship."

Hotels in Wellington booked up fast, with phones ringing non-stop as people are told to stay put and not to return to their Kapiti Coast homes.

A spokesperson for Ibis Hotel in Wellington said they went from a few rooms taken to fully booked in a few hours.

It had had to start turning people away and had dealt with more than 30 people in the past hour.

Other central city hotels, including James Cook, Amora and Bolton, had also booked out and had had to turn several dozen people away.