A whitebaiter feared he was about to drown when a flash flood swamped his caravan and vehicle in the Taramakau River bed early this morning.
Phil Dense, of Greymouth, drove his four-wheel-drive and caravan to the big gravel beach above the road-rail bridge about 4.30am today as he settled in for a usual day's whitebaiting.
About 6.30am he noticed a change in the sound of the river, looked out the caravan window and saw the water was rising rapidly.
"I thought 'I better get out of here,"' he told the Greymouth Star.
As he was towing the caravan back across the beach a torrent of water came rushing at him.
He jumped out of the vehicle to unhook the caravan to make a quick getaway.
Initially the water was halfway up his gumboots but within two minutes it was up to his chest.
"I managed to get the caravan unhooked and it just floated down the river. The water was coming over the bonnet of my ute - the motor was still running, I tried to drive it away but the water was still rising."
Mr Dense said the only way he could get to safety was to swim for his life.
"I floundered my way to the beach - but I was bloody lucky. I thought I was going to die today," he said.
He blamed the flash flood on gravel contractors and the way they had been extracting gravel from the riverbed.
"The contractors have dug the gravel out and a channel has formed - the water backed up behind it and today it blew that channel and came at me like a huge wave."
Whitebaiters have been complaining about the intensive gravel extraction on the Taramakau over the past couple of years, resulting in the West Coast Regional Council suspending extraction downstream of the bridge. However, that pushed the contractors upstream.
Council consents and compliance manage Jackie Adams said the river had been cutting through where Mr Dense had parked his caravan for months.
"I actually went down there the other day and thought anyone who settled in to whitebait on that island in the river was daft," Mr Adams said.
The river was already running high and rose quickly in heavy rain.
He was to visit the site today to investigate the incident.
- The Greymouth Star