Daring river rescue in wild Easter storm

By Teuila Fuatai, Sophie Ryan, David Bruce of the Otago Daily Times

A woman is rescued from the roof of her car in Fuschia Creek after the Kakanui River, Otago. Photo / Otago Rescue Helicopter
A woman is rescued from the roof of her car in Fuschia Creek after the Kakanui River, Otago. Photo / Otago Rescue Helicopter

Send your weather related stories, photos or video here.

A woman had to be saved from raging floodwaters in north Otago as a wild Easter storm ripped through the South Island, blowing roofs off houses, demolishing several buildings and causing widespread power outages.

Weather from ex-tropical cyclone Ita bore down across the country yesterday and overnight, bringing flooding and slips in many areas.

A woman and her car were swept away by floodwater after the Kakanui River in North Otago burst its banks at the Five Forks bridge in the storm.

Emergency services were notified by a passerby who saw a woman on the roof of her car in the water.

The flood proved too tough for a four wheel drive tractor to reach her but, after about two hours huddled on the roof of her car, a digger managed to get out to her car and she scrambled into the bucket helped by Oamaru Police Sergeant Peter Muldrew.

About 11am, Roda Inez Carlene Davidson, from Fuschia Creek, had crossed the bridge and drove into floodwaters on the way to her job at Oamaru KFC.

Misjudging the depth and speed of the water crossing the road north of the bridge, her car was swept downstream but, fortunately, got caught in a fence.

About 11.51am, police, two fire units from Weston and Oamaru, St John and local farmers had arrived to help.

A four wheel drive tractor started out to reach her, but the water was too strong and deep for it to get off the road and close to the car.

Meanwhile, water continued to rise with the Kakanui River hitting a peak of almost 600 cumecs just upstream at Clifton Falls. The fence was also shifting slightly as time went by.

The decision was then made by rescuers to bring in the 14-tonne digger driven by local farmer Robert Borst. As back-up, contractor Tim Walton brought out his jet-boat and the Otago regional Rescue helicopter was on its way.

The digger went out to test the road and water, then returned to pick up Sgt Muldrew to go in the bucket to help the woman. They had to be careful not to touch power lines above the car which, although they had been shut down, could not be guaranteed not to be live.

Mr Borst said the digger, when it got to the car, was almost at its maximum depth to operate in water. He managed to get close enough to get the bucket out to the car at almost full extension.

Mr Muldrew said Mrs Davidson started to stand on the roof, but he told her to crawl over. After sitting in heavy rain and a strong, cold wind for about two hours, she had difficulty getting into the bucket.

"I told her to lean over as far as possible and then I helped her to roll in," he said.

Just as she got in the bucket the helicopter arrived as back-up rescue, but was not needed.

After Mrs Davidson was rescued, she was helped to a St John Ambulance where she was treated for hypothermia and then taken to Oamaru Hospital where she was also treated then discharged.

Her husband Brian was unaware of the drama and did not hear about his wife's mishap for about four hours until she was in hospital.

He was cut-off by flood waters and could not get to Oamaru to bring her home, so she was staying with friends.

"She's been through that way before when it has been flooding, but I guess the road may have been swept away or the water was too fast this time," he said.

Mrs Davidson was grateful to her rescuers and expressed her thanks. but did not want to comment further.

Greymouth hit hard

The West Coast was one of the worst hit areas, with winds of 140km/hr ripping through the district.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said 60 houses had roofs blown off in the wind yesterday and large rainfall was forecast for tomorrow.

"We are in full recovery mode racing against time against the weather. We've got an aircraft hangar with planes in it that has been totally demolished and a hall in Greymouth that has been totally demolished.

"Luckily the CBD area is not badly affected so it's business as usual but the damage to the residential parts of Greymouth is certainly large."

The remains of a hangar at the Greymouth aerodrome. Photo / Greymouth Star
The remains of a hangar at the Greymouth aerodrome. Photo / Greymouth Star

Mr Kokshoorn said the district would not be declaring a state of emergency because there was no threat of loss of life.

There is over 100mm of rain forecast to fall in Greymouth tomorrow and firefighters and the public are racing to secure tarpaulins on houses.

"We'll get there. We've had to learn to be resilient and this is one more time we will all just whip together to get us up and running again."

Last night 28 people sheltered in an emergency evacuation centre at the Greymouth Baptist Church and Mr Kokshoorn said he expected more people to be staying in the centre tonight.

Red Cross volunteers from Christchurch and the West Coast provided food, water and shelter for the 20-strong group, left stranded after the Cobden Bridge was closed due to high winds.

Doug Winter, a volunteer who came from Christchurch to help, described the wind as "horrendous".

"We kept them fed and watered, nice and warm until they could go back to their houses.

Fire Service southern communications shift manager Andrew Norris said teams were working to secure properties, before the next predicted deluge tomorrow.

Most of our damage is from Greymouth up to Granity, north of Westport, he said.

"We are assisting people to check their roofs and to make everything watertight - damaged roofs and things like that from the wind - because there's more heavy rain expected there tomorrow."

Watch: Wild weather: Flooding in Blenheim

Video

Nelson hospital damaged

In Nelson, emergency services and workers are in "clean up mode" following damage from the extreme weather, the local Civil Defence said and Emergency Management (CDEM) group said.

Part of the roof from Nelson Hospital has been blown off, and authorities have closed Waimea Rd as they deal with the damage.

"Emergency services and contractors have spent the night, and will spend most of today clearing roads, of fallen trees and assisting in clean up.

"There is still a need to be vigilant as more rain is predicted, with the Golden Bay area already receiving the second round of forecasted rainfall," CDEM said.

River levels in the region, particularly the Anatoki, Waingaro and the Aorere were rising, with road closures predicted at the Waitapu splash and Kotinga bridge around midday with the high tide.

Drivers in the region should take extreme care, with some roads down to one lane in places.

Nelson Hospital duty manager and incident controller, Hilary Exton, said a "significant part of the roof had come away and was hanging down the side of the building" this morning.

While emergency services were called, patients were removed from any areas at risk and the area below the unsecure roofing had been cleared.

"We moved all patients from ICU through to the recovery area into a safe place.


"The ICU now is closed until we get the all clear to go back in."

"We've also had a couple of areas on one ward that was close to the area that was affected and we closed a couple of those bed areas," Mrs Exton said.

All patients were stable and supported, and hospital services had not been affected.

It was not yet known when the broken part of the roof would be fixed, with work to secure the overhang occurring this afternoon, she said.

Christchurch soaked again

Slips have closed the road to Christchurch's Lyttelton Tunnel, the local council advises.

The Christchurch City Council said the worst of the rain, which had caused the Heathcote River to flood, had passed.

While the city's rivers were all running high, with the Heathcote River reaching nearly two metres above normal levels about 1pm today, levels were beginning to ease with the slower rainfall.

There had also been isolated flooding across the city, and council workers were currently working to clear drains to assist with the situation.

Areas of Heathcote Valley were experiencing particular difficulties, as run-off water from the hills washed through the Bridle Path.

In Lyttelton, contractors were working to make the site around a slip on Canterbury St safe.


Engineers were also checking the Port Hills for small localised slips, and monitoring areas known to be at risk of "mass movement," the council said.

Residents on about 15 streets in the suburb were also facing water supply issues, after the water pipe feeding the Quarry Reservoir had been washed away.

"Council contractors are providing a water tanker for people affected, which will be parked outside the Lyttelton Fire Station in London Street," the council said.

"The Council is asking Lyttelton residents and the rest of Banks Peninsula to conserve water as the adverse weather event will impact on local streams and affect water quality," it said.


'It's not going to be easy returning my rental car,' says the reader who sent us this photo of Aynsley Tce in Christchurch.

Thunderstorm watches in place

A severe thunderstorm watch was in place for the Coromandel Peninsula, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Taupo.

Some thunderstorms could be severe with rainfall totals reaching up to 50 mm/h at times, Met Service said.

Firefighters around the Bay of Plenty had already dealt with two rounds of thunderstorms this morning.

"A couple of hours between about 6 and 8am, there was a thunderstorm which went through Mt Maunganui, Tauranga, Te Puke, Papamoa. We had 28 jobs for weather-related events, mainly flooding," Fire Service northern communications shift manager Scott Osmond said.

A second storm front was expected to come through mid-morning, sparking another round of call-outs in the area, he said.

Meanwhile, heavy rain warnings are in place for Nelson, Northern Marlborough, Canterbury, North Otago and Dunedin.

"Essentially, the heavy rain in the east from Canterbury down to Dunedin is easing from the north, this afternoon through to this evening," MetService duty forecaster Richard Finie said.

Easter unplugged: Power outages hit thousands

Around 10,000 people were without power due to the wild weather this morning.

In Christchurch, Orion NZ said 3,181 customers were off the network.

The West Coast had an estimated 1000 customers without power, 500 south of Hari Hari and around the same number in the Greymouth area.

Chief executive for West Power Rob Caldwell said crews were hoping to restore power to most people, however some some customers would probably have to spend tonight in the dark.

In Auckland, Vector lines crews had recently restored power to about 1000 people in Helensville.

However, about1300 customers in Kaipara, Puhoi, Kawau Island and Takatu as well as about 1000 Northlanders were still without power.

A spokesperson for Top Energy said most of its customers were expected to have power by the end of the day.

In Rotorua, Unison Power had about 1500 customers affected. It hoped to have but hoped to 800 customers around Lake Tarawera reconnected this afternoon.

Hawke's Bay had pockets of people without power, most in rural areas due to trees falling on lines.

Some regional flights have been affected by the weather. Holidaymakers concerned about their flights should check with the airline.

Weather-related road closures:

* SH 53 Featherston to Martinborough: road closed due to flooding at the Waihenga River bridge

* SH 36 Mangorewa Gorge: road closed due to slip blocking traffic in both directions

* SH 36 Dudley Rd to Hamurana junction: road closed due to slip

* SH 1 Ward to Kaikoura: road closed due to flooding, high winds, slips and debris

* SH 75 Christchurch Akaroa Rd: road closed due to flooding between Little River And Barrys Bay

* SH 6 Ross to Haast: Road Closed due to strong winds and fallen trees

Source: NZTA

- Otago Daily Times

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 27 Dec 2014 23:25:14 Processing Time: 539ms