Evacuations and homes without power as wild weather batters country

Satellite imagery shows the severe weather covering most of New Zealand. Photo / Metservice
Satellite imagery shows the severe weather covering most of New Zealand. Photo / Metservice

• 186 people, mostly tourists, have been evacuated in Franz Josef.
• The Westland District Council have declared a state of emergency in the Franz Josef and Waiau region after a night of extreme flooding. .
• Flood waters swept through several hotels in the region, including the Scenic Hotel where staff accommodation was under water.
• 12,800 people without power in Auckland.
• 900 people without power in Far North.
• Franz Josef village has been left without water
• Police also helping people evacuate from Riwaka, near Motueka, after the Tasman area received heavy rain overnight.
• Dozens of emergency services callouts in Northland and Auckland, with fallen trees and downed power lines.

Wild weather has battered the country overnight, with strong winds, heavy rain and severe flooding continuing to cause chaos this morning.

The Westland District Council early this morning declared a state of emergency in the Franz Josef and Waiau region after a night of extreme flooding.

One hundred and eighty six people, mostly tourists, have been evacuated in Franz Josef after the Waiho River burst its banks and the flooding swept through several hotels including the Scenic Hotel where staff accommodation was under water.

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Westland Civil Defence Public Information Andy Thompson said more than 100 tourists were forced to leave their campsites in the Top 10 Holiday Park and 16 people were evacuated from Westwood Lodge when the properties were inundated by rising floodwaters.

Mr Thompson said the river had carved a new channel about 1km north of the Franz Josef township and was now racing through the Scenic Circle Hotel where 70 staff and guests were evacuated just before midnight. The Red Cross were now providing welfare to the stranded holidaymakers.

This morning contractors using heavy machinery were attempting to put in rock protection to shore up the breached river bank, he said.

Franz Josef village has been left without water and residents are being advised to save whatever water they had. Engineers are on their way to fix the problem.

State Highway 6 at Franz Josef was open but there was a warning in place and motorists were urged to drive with caution.

Police are also helping a number of people evacuate from Riwaka, near Motueka, after the Tasman area received more heavy rain overnight and the Riwaka River breached its banks.

Nelson Tasman Emergency Management spokesman Roger Ball said up to 20 homes had been evacuated overnight. Emergency services were helping people from flooded properties but he did not have an exact number of how many people had been forced to leave. "We've got water right through people's homes," said Mr Ball.

The council had now opened a welfare centre at the Motueka Recreation Centre. Mr Ball described it as a one in 50-year flood affecting the north branch of the Riwaka River.

State Highway 60 had been closed at Riwaka and also between Upper Takaka and Collingwood because of the flooding.

Meanwhile, wild winds have battered the upper North Island leaving scores of households without power.

Severe Weather Forecaster Paul Mallinson said Auckland and Northland recorded gusts of 120km/h and 12,800 customers are currently without power in the Auckland region. At its worst there were 18,000 customers without power in Auckland.

Water washes over a road in Auckland early this morning. Photo / Matthew Davison
Water washes over a road in Auckland early this morning. Photo / Matthew Davison

Far north power company Top Energy say there were 6000 customers without power overnight. There are 900 people still without electricity this morning, a spokeswoman said.

The areas worst hit by high winds, heavy rain and falling trees are Taipa, Kaikohe, Moerewa, Kawakawa and rural Kaitaia. More crews were dispersed first thing this morning to fix the remaining outages, the Top Energy spokeswoman said.

Auckland Civil Defence say they monitored the storm overnight and kept in touch with MetService, emergency services, transport agencies and utilities across the region.

Winds flipped a trampoline in Otara overnight. Photo / Tarani Tekeu
Winds flipped a trampoline in Otara overnight. Photo / Tarani Tekeu

"High winds peaked in the early hours of the morning, bringing down some trees and branches which have been dealt with by the council, and prompting around 90 call-outs from emergency services - police and fire - but not causing widespread damage.

Auckland Civil Defence head of emergency operations Aaron Davis said there may still be minor travel disruption on the roads this morning. "While it's been a wild lead-up to the holiday weekend, we expect the weather to settle down later today. Nevertheless, drivers should remain vigilant and take extra care on the roads," he said.

A massive part of the North Shore is without power. Image / Vector
A massive part of the North Shore is without power. Image / Vector
Power outages across the Auckland area. Photo / Vector
Power outages across the Auckland area. Photo / Vector

Northern Fire shift manager Dallas Ramsay said crews attended more than 70 weather-related call-outs throughout Northland and Auckland overnight clearing trees fallen across roads, arcing power lines and securing lifting roofs.

The most serious incident appears to have been in Kaukapakapa, where a tree has come down on a house. The Fire Service says the tree penetrated the roof of the home on the Kaipara Coast Highway ... it's now covered with tarps.

Arcing power lines sparked a house fire in Wallath Rd, Onehunga, the Fire Service said. The blaze was out on arrival, however. And power lines on fire have also sparked a smouldering blaze at the entry point to a house in Dairy Flat, the Fire Service said.

Mt Wellington, Epsom and the North Shore bays are all badly hit with power outages and have been for at least two hours.

The last ferry to Waiheke from Auckland was cancelled last night because the weather conditions were too dangerous. There were 15 people stranded in Auckland city as a result.

One of the passengers told the Herald that she was very annoyed that Fullers had nothing in place for accommodation. "One of the passengers rang the Mercure and negotiated it down $30. All [Fullers] offered was a taxi ride - someone got them to agree to Whangaparaoa - that's $180, more than a hotel room. A couple went to spend the night in a chair at Sky City."

Auckland Transport this morning said there were delays on the Waiheke ferry because of the wind conditions. Because of the current weather conditions buses will continue to replace all Pine Harbour and Gulf Harbour ferry sailings until further notice, it said.

A cruise ship is waiting in the Hauraki Gulf for winds to die down. It will not dock in the Auckland Harbour until the weather improves, an Auckland Transport spokesman said. He said there is no suggestion anyone is in danger.

Tauranga also has reports of surface flooding and heavy winds. High winds are also reported in Hawkes Bay.

Severe gales and rain also battered Rotorua overnight, but emergency services say they have not attended any related callouts. Periods of heavy rain are expected to affect Rotorua, the wider Bay of Plenty and Gisborne from today until tomorrow morning.
According to the Unison website, there have been no reported power outages.

Civil Defence was due to assess the countrywide damage at first light, but it's expected to be particularly severe in Franz Josef.

Nelson Marlborough received the most rain - 240mm and it was expected to continue throughout the morning.

Rain was expected to ease for the heavy hit West Coast over the next couple of hours.


The spread of rain across the country. Photo / Metservice
The spread of rain across the country. Photo / Metservice

MetService issued a severe thunderstorm watch across central and eastern New Zealand. It included Great Barrier Island, Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Gisborne and Taranaki.


The storms were expected to start sweeping across from the west of the island early this morning and not move off the eastern regions until late in the afternoon.

Severe weather warnings remain in place for the upper South Island, western regions in the lower North Island and the Bay of Plenty.

The rain was expected to ease for most of the country by this afternoon.

WeatherWatch

Gale force winds have kept many Auckland and other northerners awake overnight - and the winds have continued as daylight arrived, but will be easing today.The rain band, however, has already significantly fallen apart over northern New Zealand overnight, something WeatherWatch.co.nz said was quite possible yesterday because of the angle it was moving in from.

Heaviest rain as of 6am was around central New Zealand (top of the South Island, lower North Island) with only isolated showers and heavy downpours affecting the upper North Island with very large dry areas.

It's also very humid and warm, with temperatures about 22C at 6am in Auckland and humidity at 95 per cent - it feels like temperature is in the mid 20s already with gale northerlies.

WeatherWatch.co.nz says while it felt quite stormy in Auckland, the winds have been hovering around gale force and gusting to about 80km/h in most places overnight. Some remote weather stations in exposed areas are likely to record higher gusts - but the 80km/h gusts are the official readings from Whenuapai and Auckland airports.

Reports of multiple power cuts have been coming in all night - which is predictable and normal in an Auckland nor'easter, with trees breaking easier in this less frequent strong wind direction.

Head weather analyst Philip Duncan says the overnight gales aren't being caused by a storm either. "It's one of those rare cases where the winds can be blamed on a very large high pressure system east of the country, rather than a storm or low moving in. It's also known as the squash zone - the part on the weather map where all the isobars are".

WeatherWatch.co.nz says as the sun comes up the added warmth could see the front over the upper North Island gain more energy as it moves eastwards today - creating heavier downpours and maybe even a few thunderstorms.

Bay of Plenty eastwards may see some big downpours developing today - and people in the north should keep an eye on the rain radars today as the sub-tropical flow continues, but fades out later.

Meanwhile rain in the South Island will ease the further south you head - but rain may linger around the upper and northeastern South Island areas for a number of hours. By the end of today winds and rain and showers will have eased in most, but not all, places. Showers may linger in some coastal areas on Good Friday.

- NZ Herald

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