Bad weather traps teens
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.