Tuesday 26 March 2019

Atmospheric river hits West Coast New Zealand

West Coast bridge washed away as rivers reach record levels

26 March, 2019

The Westland District Council declared the emergency earlier this evening, as there is a "raised risk to life and injury for local residents and further risk to property".

The heavy rain has raised rivers to record levels, closed roads and prompted evacuation warnings in the area. Some parts of Westland face up to 800 millimetres of rain.

The town of Haast is experiencing a one-in-100-year flood, and five people have evacuated as a precaution. The main road from just south of the town all the way north to Hokitika is closed.

Westland District Council has already activated its Emergency Operations Centre as river levels approach those last seen during the devastating 2016 floods.

The Council has advised people living south of the Arawhata Bridge to evacuate.

The South Turnbull Road at Okuru is also flooding. A council spokesperson said many rivers had reached alarm levels and staff were continuing to monitor them, to ensure preparations for emergency actions.

The Transport Agency has extended the closure of the South Westland highway.

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Check the latest road closures at NZTA.

State Highway 6 between Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers has been closed since this morning after two slips covered the road.

Agency network manager Colin Hey says the closure now ran from Makarora on the Otago side of the Haast Pass to south of Hokitika. Motorists will be stopped at those two points. Mr Hey said it would remain closed overnight.

MetService has upgraded watches in many areas to full warnings in place now in place for Buller, northern Westland and headwaters of north Canterbury.

Civil Defence issued a strong wind warning for Wellington and Wairarapa from 1pm today through to tomorrow afternoon.

Severe northwest gales gusting up to 120km/h an hour in exposed places could be expected - especially tomorrow morning.

MetService said residents of north-west Nelson, the Richmond and Tararua Ranges and around Mount Taranaki should watch for heavy rain.

Northwesterly winds could approach severe gale strength in Fiordland, Southland, Otago, parts of Canterbury and Marlborough, and MetService urged residents to keep up to date with the latest forecasts.

Heavy rain has been falling in southern Westland, Fiordland and the headwaters of south Canterbury and Otago lakes.
Westland District Council mayor Bruce Smith said an "incredible" amount of rain had been forecast], with predictions of between 600mm and 800mm to fall.

Rivers in the region were getting close to the heights of the April 2016 floods which caused $30 million worth of damage.
State Highway 94, Te Anau to Milford Sound, is subject to a heavy rain warning.

A Franz Josef restaurant manager said people could be trapped in the town if river levels continued to rise.

Heavy rain caused the nearby Waiho River to rise and start running over the bridge.

In some parts of Westland, up to 800 millimetres of rainfall is predicted.

Alma Pangan of Blue Ice Restaurant said she may not be able to go home if the bridge was damaged.

Ms Pangan said she was forced to cross the State Highway 6 bridge into Franz Josef so she could get to work.

She said the restaurant was preparing for a busy night, especially if people were unable to get back home.

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