A mother of 11 from the Gloriavale community has died after being swept away in front of her family in a swollen West Coast river.
A source told the Herald that the woman, Rejoice Steadfast, had been watching the raging Haupiri River yesterday with family members when the bank collapsed and she fell in the water.
"It is an absolute tragedy," they said.
Rejoice Steadfast is the daughter-in-law of Gloriavale secretary and treasurer Fervent Steadfast, and sister of the late Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian's wife Ruth.
The Haupiri River flows by Gloriavale, a remote Christian community, in the West Coast's Grey District.
The area was hammered with heavy rain yesterday, with some weather stations in the ranges recording more than half a metre of rain, causing widespread flooding and slips.
Police this morning said a Search and Rescue team had recovered her body at 8am.
Her death has been referred to the coroner.
A Gloriavale spokeswoman declined to comment this morning.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said her death was very unfortunate.
His heart went out to the community, and he hoped they would get through the tragedy as best as possible.
The Gloriavale Christian Community was founded in 1969 by Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian.
The 91-year-old, who was jailed for sex offending some years ago, died in May.
He was buried in private ceremony on the commune, which has its own chapel and graveyard. It was understood a similar process would occur for Steadfast.
Gloriavale is located at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth on the West Coast.
It relocated from its original North Canterbury site in Cust (where it was known as the Springbank Christian Community) to Haupiri in 1991. The community is totally self-contained.
There is little contact with the outside world, access to media and the internet is heavily restricted, limits are placed on clothing and diets, marriages are arranged informally, and if anyone decide to leave, they are ex-communicated.
Elsewhere on the West Coast a bridge has collapsed and dozens of students are trapped as a wicked storm continues to pelt the region with heavy rain.
Parts of the West Coast received over half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours, with more rain and even snow on the way in the South Island.
Civil Defence remains on alert today following the storm.
The headwaters of the Hokitika, Wahio and Haast rivers are receding after parts of the ranges received more than half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours, but many roads have closed overnight.
Westland District Council Mayor Bruce Smith said the weather had settled down a bit this morning, with light rain and receding rivers.
The Hokitika River peaked at about 1am at the second highest level in 50 years, Smith said.
"Up at Hokitika gorge it was frightening, there was a lot of water coming through.
"We were concerned about the flood wall at Hokitika [town] but it held tight."
The biggest problem was the Goat Creek Bridge east of Otira, which had been completely eaten away by the swollen Otira River.
"The bank has washed out and the bridge is twisted, it looks pretty serious."
State Highway 73 between Jacksons and Springfield was also closed, as well as SH6 from Hokitika to Fox Glacier and several local roads due to surface flooding.
Smith said contractors were already getting stuck into clearing slips along the West Coast roads but Goat Creek Bridge would likely take much longer.
Meanwhile a party of Otago Boys' High School students marooned in a hut in Mt Aspiring National Park after heavy rain rendered a creek impassable have made it out safely.
A school spokeswoman said they received word at 11.30am all the boys were loading the bus and were on their way home.
Deputy rector Mark Hooper said the group of about 25 year 9 pupils were scheduled to return Thursday but the creek rose rapidly and became too high to cross.
All parents had been informed and there was ample food in the hut in the Matukituki Valley, he said.
They hoped to walk out today provided the river levels drop.
Power is cut off to South Westland south of Bullock Creek, and South Westland Area School at Harihari will remain closed this morning.
A severe weather warning remained in place for parts of south and central New Zealand today as a front moved across the South Island, reaching the lower North Island this morning.
MetService meteorologist Nick Zachar said some weather stations on the West Coast had recorded over half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours.
Ivory Glacier on the West Coast topped the charts at 550mm, while many other areas in the ranges received similar amounts. That is more rain than Auckland has had in the past four months.
While the weather was on an easing trend there was still plenty to come.
"We are still seeing quite a bit of rain about Hokitika and south of there, some stations on the West Coast have had 40mm an hour, and heavy snow is starting to fall in the Canterbury high country. Mt Cook Village is starting to see some decent snowfall," Zachar said."
"This is all adding to river levels and increasing the risk of flooding and slips."
Road snow warnings were in place for many South Island alpine passes this morning. Arthur's Pass (SH73) could see as much as 12cm of snow, Porters Pass (SH73) 15cm, Lindis Pass (SH8) 8cm and the Crown Range Rd a light dusting.
There was also a moderate risk of elevated thunderstorms over northern Westland, Buller and western Nelson in the early morning, and a low risk over the remainder of Nelson.
As the front moved north it would be replaced by a cool southerly change. Christchurch would see its high drop from 29C yesterday to just 11C today. Kaikoura, which topped the country yesterday on 31C, would drop to a cool 14C.
The cold front would move over the North Island from midday Friday and clear the island by Saturday afternoon.
The rain over the North Island would mostly fall from late Friday to Saturday morning, followed by a few showers lingering into the afternoon.
Anyone attending the Taylor Swift concert in Auckland Friday evening was advised to keep an eye on the forecast and consider taking a poncho or raincoat.
On Sunday, showers would pepper the North Island where it would be cool, while a fair amount of sunshine over the South Island would allow the temperatures to recover to the high teens.
Mostly cloudy, chance drizzle. Rain developing at night as northerlies turn southwest. 23C high, 13C overnight.
Mostly cloudy, chance drizzle. Rain developing late evening as northerlies turn southwest. 22C high, 12C overnight.
Mostly cloudy, chance drizzle. Rain developing evening, clearing overnight. Northerlies. 22C high, 9C overnight.
Cloudy, and possible drizzle. A period of rain at night. Northerlies dying out at night. 20C high, 12C overnight.
New Plymouth Drizzle at times, then rain developing afternoon as northerly turns southwest. Rain clearing overnight. 18C high, 7C overnight.
Napier Cloud increasing, few spots of morning rain. Rain developing evening and northerlies turning southerly. 27C high, 12C overnight.
Whanganui Cloud and chance shower. Rain developing afternoon and northwesterly turning southerly. Rain clearing at night. 23C high, 10C overnight.
Wellington Drizzle turning to rain this afternoon, then easing at night. Strong northerlies turning southerly evening. 18C high, 9C overnight.
Nelson Rain, chance heavy, clearing afternoon as strong northerlies change southwesterly. 18C high, 8C overnight.
Christchurch Rain, easing to a shower or two this evening but remaining cloudy. Southeasterlies dying out late. 11C high, 5C overnight.
Dunedin Fine spells. A few showers, mainly in the afternoon. Winds mainly light. 11C high, 7C overnight.