Bad weather traps teens

The Press - - News - Michael Daly & Joanne Car­roll

Heavy rain and wild winds are ex­pected to ease to­day after dozens of stu­dents were stranded, at least one per­son went miss­ing, high­ways closed and a bridge was de­stroyed as a spring storm bat­tered the West Coast.

Twenty-five Otago teens were stuck in a moun­tain lodge overnight and stu­dents in West­land had to be es­corted home by po­lice as yes­ter­day’s se­vere weather kept au­thor­i­ties on high alert.

Otago Boys’ High School deputy rec­tor Mark Hooper said the stu­dents stayed an ex­tra night in the school’s lodge in the Mt As­pir­ing Na­tional Park after a creek be­came too high to cross safely.

‘‘There is a tonne of food in our lodge so they’ll get a good feed . . . I’m sure,’’ he said.

The trip was an annual year 9 and 10 camp to the Matuk­i­tuki Val­ley. The teacher in charge made con­tact with the school us­ing a moun­tain ra­dio and told them the creek had swollen and could not be walked across safely yes­ter­day. Par­ents were be­ing kept well in­formed, Hooper said.

He hoped the creek would go down and al­low them to come out safe and sound this morn­ing.

A per­son was re­ported miss­ing in the Haupiri River, near Glo­ri­avale in the Grey District. Emer­gency ser­vices were no­ti­fied at 8pm yes­ter­day and mem­bers of the pub­lic were as­sist­ing in the search.

MetSer­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ravi Kan­dula said Grey­mouth recorded 72 mil­lime­tres of rain in the 24 hours to 7pm yes­ter­day, while 92mm had fallen in Hok­i­tika and 180mm at Franz Josef.

‘‘Most of the West Coast is go­ing to be pretty fine start­ing from [this] evening once those show­ers clear. Satur­day, Sun­day, Mon­day – it’s not a bad place to be.’’

Kan­dula said the rain on the east coast was ‘‘just start­ing to get go­ing’’ in places like Oa­maru and Ti­maru. It moved up to Christchurch yes­ter­day evening, and would con­tinue for much of to­day, he said.

Har­i­hari’s South West­land Area School prin­ci­pal Mark Caplen said yes­ter­day’s weather was ‘‘pretty dread­ful’’. The school closed at lunchtime, but the roads north to Hok­i­tika and south to Franz Josef were closed due to slips and flood­ing.

Po­lice had ar­ranged to es­cort some stu­dents north to Ross.

‘‘They all got back home safely. The kids re­ally en­joyed the po­lice es­cort. The roads are very bad. There is a lot of wa­ter and mul­ti­ple slips,’’ Caplen said.

The school will re­main closed to­day.

Sur­face flood­ing closed State High­way 6 from Hok­i­tika to Haast and a slip closed SH73 be­tween Arthur’s Pass town­ship and Jack­son. The roads re­mained closed overnight and an up­date is ex­pected about 9am.

The ap­proach to Goat Creek bridge, near Otira on SH73, was dam­aged by yes­ter­day’s del­uge. The bridge was re­placed in 2010 after the old wooden struc­ture reached the end of its op­er­a­tional life. A NZ Trans­port Agency spokes­woman said heavy ma­chin­ery would be moved to the site first thing to­day.

West­land Civil De­fence opened a wel­fare cen­tre in

Har­i­hari for tourists and lo­cals need­ing sup­port. Other cen­tres were on standby.

Lo­cal Civil De­fence con­troller Si­mon Bas­tion said flood lev­els on the Hok­i­tika, Waiho and Haast rivers were be­ing mon­i­tored, with the Haast River ris­ing steeply yes­ter­day.

Sur­face flood­ing was pos­si­ble around Hok­i­tika overnight, so ad­di­tional mo­bile pumps had been dis­trib­uted.

West­land mayor Bruce Smith said the Hok­i­tika River reached its first flood level warn­ing at 10.30am, and a slip fur­ther south, near Whataroa, had di­verted a creek onto the road. Con­trac­tors were try­ing to re­di­vert the stream.

Kate Le Comte said the Bealey River was the high­est she had seen in her three years liv­ing in Arthur’s Pass.

‘‘The heavy rain and wind scared my poor puppy dog at 3am [yes­ter­day]. It’s very wet. The wa­ter­falls are look­ing fan­tas­tic at the mo­ment,’’ she said.

Po­lice in Cen­tral Otago warned driv­ers to take ex­tra care on the ‘‘very wet and slip­pery’’ Crown Range Rd after three crashes hap­pened at one cor­ner be­tween 2pm and 6pm. No in­juries were re­ported.

Christchurch City Coun­cil staff pre­pared for heavy rain overnight, but no sig­nif­i­cant flood­ing was ex­pected.

Fore­casts are vari­able on rain­fall in the next 24 hours, but with no spring high tides due, the rain is ex­pected to only re­sult in sur­face street flood­ing in low-ly­ing ar­eas and around rivers.

As a pre­cau­tion, dredg­ing equip­ment was taken out of the Heath­cote River, and a tem­po­rary pump was placed in Maces Rd.

‘‘We’re keep­ing a close eye on fore­casts, with par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on our lo­cal me­te­o­rol­o­gist’s re­ports,’’ coun­cil land drainage man­ager Keith Davison said.


The ap­proach to Goat Creek bridge, near Otira on SH73 be­tween the West Coast and Arthur’s Pass, was dam­aged by yes­ter­day’s del­uge. Left: Rag­ing flood­wa­ter yes­ter­day in the Hok­i­tika Gorge on the West Coast.

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