‘IT WAS SO FAST’

Two dead af­ter tram­pers swept away try­ing to cross flooded river in Waitakere Ranges About 100 evac­u­ated and 20 stranded by ris­ing wa­ters in Piha Flash flood­ing swamps build­ings, floats cars Warn­ings of more bad weather to come

Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Two peo­ple died yes­ter­day as they were swept away while try­ing to cross a flooded river in the Waitakere Ranges.

Po­lice said three in the group of five tram­pers sur­vived the ac­ci­dent near Cas­cade Falls. One was res­cued and taken to Waitakere Hospi­tal, an­other who made it to safety was also taken to hospi­tal with mi­nor in­juries and the fifth was un­in­jured.

The flood­ing was caused by tor­ren­tial rain, which also sparked evac­u­a­tions of about 100 peo­ple in Piha.

About 20 oth­ers were stranded by ris­ing wa­ters on a nearby walk­ing track, “shiv­er­ing un­con­trol­lably” and hud­dling to­gether for warmth.

One mem­ber of the group, a moun­tain run­ner from Canada, ran dif­fer­ent tracks un­til he found a way out that wasn’t flooded, so the group could make their way to safety.

In Piha, fire and po­lice per­son­nel evac­u­ated about 100 peo­ple from homes around Gle­nesk, Seav­iew and Beach Val­ley Rds when a ris­ing stream threat­ened to flood prop­er­ties.

Peo­ple were evac­u­ated to the nearby surf club and camp­ground.

Piha res­i­dent Be­van Hill said the art gallery was flooded as well as the camp­ground.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple say­ing they’ve never seen any­thing like it. The river com­ing out on Piha beach is in­cred­i­ble. It’s like the Waikato River flow­ing out there.” Hill said there was “wa­ter ev­ery­where” and he had wa­ter com­ing in his front door on Gar­den Rd.

“A lot of wet and soggy campers” were pack­ing items into their cars, and a few tents had ended up un­der­wa­ter.

“It all hap­pened so quickly.” Deb­bie Leigh from the Piha RSA said peo­ple were re­port­ing cars drift­ing in the flood­wa­ters.

Phil Wal­lis from the Piha Surf School said friends of his had taken pic­tures of cars float­ing in flood­wa­ters, with the wa­ter ris­ing up to the sills in­side the cars.

Mean­while, Colin En­nor was among a group of about 20 stranded on Win­stone Track off Piha Rd af­ter flash floods cut them off from the carpark.

He said what was meant to be a gen­tle 30-minute walk to the Kitekite Falls in jan­dals and T-shirts turned into a “three-hour ex­pe­ri­ence of sur­vival”.

The low, nearly dry creek they’d crossed to get to the wa­ter­fall had turned to a rag­ing tor­rent in less than an hour.

“The river had risen so high that there was no way out. The river was above your head if you even tried to get through it.”

En­nor and his group banded to­gether with strangers. They spent sev­eral hours try­ing to find a way out.

“Ev­ery way we went to walk was com­pletely blocked by flood­ing.”

The group spent an hour try­ing to find cell­phone re­cep­tion to call for res­cue, and only one per­son’s phone was able to get even a sin­gle bar.

Po­lice said they even­tu­ally found a safe route out of the bush and walked to­wards Gle­nesk Rd.

And po­lice said 50 peo­ple were caught out by the flood­wa­ters at a wed­ding venue on Bethells Rd.

The peo­ple were at a wed­ding re­cep­tion at Flaxmere House. Po­lice and fire at­tended but did not have to take any ac­tion be­cause the wa­ter re­ceded.

Auck­land Tramp­ing Club pres­i­dent Tony Wal­ton said peo­ple should not cross a river if they could not see the bot­tom or if the wa­ter was run­ning faster than walk­ing pace.

“If it’s a swollen river you just don’t go cross­ing it.”

The MetSer­vice fore­cast for to­day is oc­ca­sional rain, with pos­si­ble down­pours in the af­ter­noon or evening. More heavy rain is pos­si­ble to­mor­row.

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