Wild weather continues to pound North Island

By Isaac Davison, Paul Harper, Jennifer van Beynen, Newstalk ZB, Gisborne Herald

Heavy rain that has caused flooding around the North Island is expected to continue tomorrow. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Heavy rain that has caused flooding around the North Island is expected to continue tomorrow. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Another bout of torrential rain is forecast to hit Northland tomorrow, as the North Island continues to be pounded by severe winds and wild weather.

The storm which hammered Northland yesterday spread further south overnight, with heavy rain lashing the top of the North Island and winds gusting to 120km/h in the central and lower North Island.

It continued to cause disruption around the North Island throughout the day, with Taupo residents warned to stay indoors as wild weather knocked out power, sent debris flying and brought down trees.

Taranaki residents were also warned that weather conditions were unstable and anyone travelling around the area should be alert to debris lying on or blowing across the road.

The storm cut off Gisborne this morning, with almost all routes in and out of the district blocked by slips, trees or flooding for a couple of hours.

In flood-hit Northland, heavy rain and strong winds eased today after yesterday's storm dumped more than two months' worth of rain on some parts of the region.

Fast rising floodwaters meant trapped families and motorists had to be rescued after the storm began in the Far North early on Sunday and spread to the rest of the region by midnight.

But the bad weather has not ended, with WeatherWatch forecasting another period of torrential rain and gale force winds to hit Northland and Auckland tomorrow.

"This new low is rich in tropical moisture and brings yet again the threat for flooding, and this time flash flooding may also be an issue,'' WeatherWatch forecaster Philip Duncan said.

"The ground is already saturated and the rain band that's coming down may be faster moving but it also contains much heavier bands of rain.''

A few hours of torrential rain could lead to rapidly rising rivers and streams, Mr Duncan warned.

However, while Monday's downpour lasted 24 hours, this downpour would be "shorter and sharper'' and was expected to last only six hours .

MetService has issued a severe weather warning for much of the North Island.

Heavy rain was expected for Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa tonight but severe southeast gales were expected to ease this evening in Taranaki, Taupo and the central North Island high country, Wellington and Horowhenua Kapiti Coast, MetService said.
Mr Duncan said tomorrow afternoon severe gales would build quickly in north-east Auckland and Northland, and then head south across Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, the Central Plateau and Taranaki, Mr Duncan warned.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Transport Agency has reopened State Highway 1 in Northland, near Whakapara north of Hikurangi, after it was closed for several hours by floodwaters.

State Highway 12 remained closed at Maitahi Bridge north of Dargaville.

Residents warned to stay indoors

Earlier this afternoon. Taupo residents were told to stay inside as the weather knocked out power, sent debris flying and brought down trees.

Strong winds have been battering the Taupo district today and are expected to continue for the next few days, Taupo District Council emergency manager Phil Parker said.

Trees and debris were causing problems for motorists and pedestrians, and police were asking residents to exercise common sense and not go outside unless absolutely necessary.

"If you don't have to go outside, don't. Please stay indoors for the time being. Flying debris and unpredictable weather make it dangerous to go walking or cycling outdoors for the next few days,'' Taupo Community Constable Barry Shepherd said.

The worst hit areas included Rakanui Road, Broadlands Roads and Centennial Drive.
Police and Civil Defence would be monitoring the situation and would advise if conditions changed.

The winds have also turned one of New Plymouth's iconic attractions into a danger zone.

Strong winds have smashed 30 panes of glass at the fernery and display houses in Pukekura Park.

Council Parks Manager Mark Bruhn said there was also risk of more trees falling.

"We have to establish how many have actually come down in the park yet, we're making sure our staff don't place themselves in unsafe situations, but there are a lot of broken branches in the areas we have been, and a lot of debris all around the place.''

Mr Bruhn said the area won't be fully assessed till winds die down.

Gisborne temporarily isolated

The storm battering the North Island all but isolated Gisborne this morning, with almost all routes out of the district blocked by slips, trees or flooding for a couple of hours.

The heavy rain sweeping in from the east is expected to last until this evening, and another short, sharp dumping is expected at the top end of the district late on Wednesday afternoon.

Police urged drivers to "drive to the conditions'', with pockets of surface water reported on the flats around Gisborne.

The two detours out of town, after the closure of the Waioeka Gorge between Gisborne and Opotiki more than two weeks ago, were hit by the severe wind and rain lashing the East Coast.

Drivers heading south on State Highway 2 were turned back after flooding temporarily closed both sides of the Whareratas south of the city this morning.

Around 7am, SH2 between Wairoa and Nuhaka, as well as between Gisborne and Muriwai, were both closed but were reopened around 9.30am.

State Highway 35, the East Coast highway, was partially blocked by a tree that fell between Wharf Road and Waihau Road on the south side of Tolaga Bay this morning. It blocked all of one lane and part of the other.

There was also extensive surface flooding in the same area.

This morning, civil defence emergency manager Richard Steele said that as far as he was aware, SH35 was open.

He advised caution and said conditions could change at any time.

Surface flooding and blocked drains caused problems in the city this morning, with some shops under threat of flooding.

Firefighters had a busy night in Gisborne, with gusts lifting roofs at some properties.

Gisborne Airport is still operating a full service but visibility could play a part throughout the day.

"The weather is so fickle at the minute . . . conditions are changing all the time,'' said Gisborne Airport manager Murray Bell.

NZTA Bay of Plenty state highways manager Brett Gliddon said contracting crews had made steady progress at the Waioeka Gorge slip, with two-thirds of the slip face relatively stable.

"However, despite the seven-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day operation there is still a large rocky outcrop that is proving to be difficult and dangerous to dislodge.''

Mr Gliddon said the heavy rain expected to be in the area until Thursday would help to remove smaller slip material, but would not have a major impact on dislodging this rocky outcrop.

Power cut for thousands

The wild weather that has lashed the country has left about 2000 properties without
power.

A strong wind warning has been issued for Taranaki, Taupo, the Central Plateau, Wellington, Horowhenua and Kapiti Coast areas, with gusts reaching 120km/h over the course of the day.

MetService has also issued a heavy rain warning for Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, and Wairarapa, as the slow moving low continues to move across the country.

Around 2000 properties have lost power, mainly in Taranaki, as trees and branches have come down on lines due to the high winds, Powerco reported.

Operations Manager Phil Marsh said the weather started damaging the network from 1am.

The majority of properties should have their power restored today, however some may remain without electricity overnight.

More wet weather on the way

Another low is expected to bring to bring more torrential rain to the north of the country tomorrow, Weatherwatch.co.nz warned.

Head weather analyst Philip Duncan said the second low is expected to move much quicker than the one which has stalled over Northland, with the worst of the wind and rain coming over a six hour period, before weakening.

"This secondary low will be small but sharp and could bring in a period of torrential rain and gusty to gale force nor'easters from Bay of Plenty northwards," Mr Duncan said.

"There is potential for slips and flash flooding with this next spell of severe weather along with isolated power cuts due to slips or small branches taking out powerlines".

By Thursday morning the low will lie over Taranaki, before dying out over the upper South Island about midday.

Flights, Volvo Ocean Race affected

Meanwhile Air New Zealand flights will again be disrupted today.

A total of 24 return flights had to be cancelled due to Auckland Airport's wet runway and gusty cross winds yesterday.

Four other flights had to be diverted to Wellington, as was a flight from Adelaide.

Air New Zealand says passengers can expect some disruption this morning, as aircraft are repositioned.

And the Volvo Ocean Race yacht Abu Dhabi was last night sheltering in the Hauraki Gulf, waiting for 60-knot conditions to ease before resuming the round-the-world race after being forced to turn back with a damaged bulk head on Sunday evening.

"All we needed was a break from the weather to get us back in the race, the other boats are only 200 miles [320km] away after all, but sadly we have exactly the opposite - the meteorological equivalent of a kick in the guts," said skipper Ian Walker.

Northland's record rainfall

Fire Service officials rescued several people trapped in cars and homes after parts of Northland were hit by two months' worth of rainfall in two days.

Flooding from yesterday continues to affect Northland.

State Highway One at Hikurangi is open only to trucks as there's new flooding 20km north of Dargaville on State Highway 12 and both lanes are blocked.

Northland Civil Defence spokesman Tony Phipps told Radio New Zealand it "could be a day or two" before flood waters recede.

Mr Phipps said smaller rivers had receded but larger rivers were still at flood levels.
Flood peaks in some areas were comparable to Cyclone Wilma last year, he said.

Mr Phipps said there had been no rescues or evacuations overnight.

State Highway 1 remains closed at Whakapara, north of Whangarei, however several other roads in the region have reopened as flood waters recede.

The Whangarei District Council said contractors are on the district's roads checking for damage, slips, fallen trees, flooding and washouts.

The council warned motorists roads may be greasy, and people should not drive in flood waters.

'She's a lucky girl"

Meanwhile a Northland woman was "very, very lucky" to be plucked from a raging river after clinging to a tree branch for 20 minutes in floods caused by record-breaking rainfall.

The 61-year-old woman, Kathleen Abbott, was plucked from a river near Otaika, south of Whangarei, yesterday morning.

She had tried to cross a bridge in her car before the river overflowed but became stuck. When she scrambled from her vehicle she was washed downstream by a fast-moving current.

Her neighbour, Dick Pickering, said he used his kayak to reach her, and with the help of a fire crew in an inflatable boat she was pulled to safety.

"She was lucky enough to grab hold of totara tree in the creek, it was going pretty strong. She'd been there for quite a while. She's a very, very lucky girl."

Mr Pickering said Ms Abbott was in a state of shock for the rest of the day.

Shari Pickering, 54, said Ms Abbott was very relieved.

"It was a pretty terrifying ordeal because the current was really really strong."

Of the rescue she said: "'It was a combined effort really, we're just lucky that we had ropes and lifejackets and kayaks for the summer holiday we never had.

"I put a life jacket on and tied a rope and tried to get to her. But the rope was too short and the current was quite strong. So my dad walked down the edge of the fenceline and tied the rope to our kayak and then I went out in the kayak and got her."

Ms Pickering said the rescue took around 20 to 30 minutes.

Further north, the fire brigade rescued a couple and their three year-old child from a Ngunguru home after 1.5m floodwaters threatened to engulf their property.

Firefighter Chris Gibbs said water was creeping up the walls of their home, and the fire brigade had to ferry them in an inflatable boat across 400m of floodwater.

More than 200mm of rain had fallen in parts of Whangarei between midnight Saturday and yesterday morning.

The heavy rain and strong winds caused numerous road closures and felled trees, and schools in the region were also closed for the day.

The low-lying Far North township of Kaeo faced even greater deluges, with 283.5mm of rainfall in the hills above it - twice the normal rainfall for the area for the whole of March.
Roads in and out of the township were closed, and floodwater in the main street rose to a metre deep.

A flood meter by the Kerikeri river showed the current was 3m high near Kaeo - enough to spill over the banks and swamp the state highway but a metre lower than the devastating floods of 2007.

- NZ Herald

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