The West Coast is heading into lockdown this afternoon as ex-tropical Cyclone Gita bears down, with fearsome winds putting residents on edge.
The region's mayors met with Civil Defence twice this morning but delayed declaring a state of emergency as they waited to see the latest projections and potential impact.
Schools from Karamea to Haast were closed today and tomorrow.
The first rain and winds of the cyclone landed on cue at midday, with the stormy weather expected to last until about midnight.
Civil Defence are most concerned about the forecast gale-force south-easterly winds that could gust up to 150km/h.
Almost all of central Greymouth was open this morning, apart from the BNZ and the Bonzai cafe, and shoppers were still around oblivious to the approaching storm.
The Tranz Alpine tourist train was cancelled today and tomorrow, while Air New Zealand cancelled all flights into Hokitika.
The Greymouth iSITE became a social agency this morning as staff tried to find accommodation for 300 tourists stranded by the cancelled train.
Another 300 will be stuck tomorrow when they turn up to catch the train back to Christchurch.
iSITE manager Gina Ashworth said Greymouth was pretty full but due to the weather, hotels and motels were receiving cancellations, so that was helping with accommodating the stranded tourists. One staff member was dedicated to that job this morning.
Ashworth said most tourists were aware of the situation, but some whose English was not as good were not. One overseas tourist wanted to camp in his tent.
She said they were showing the visitors the civil defence alerts, and letting them know the storm response was mandated by Government.
NZTA said this morning all roads to the West Coast were open including Seventeen 17 Mile, where the storm surge from Cyclone Fehi on February 1 has eaten chunks from State highway 6.
The Blaketown tiphead was closed as a precaution this morning, and the Greymouth port was closed to all shipping at 10am. Westport harbour is also closed. Both ports are crammed with tuna fishing boats sheltering from the storm.
All schools and early childhood centres have been closed for two days.
A Ministry of Education spokesman declined to say why schools were closed tomorrow, given that the storm was expected to die out overnight, saying only it was a "dynamic situation" which they were constantly assessing.
School boards of trustees made the final decision.
Even Haast, well away from the expected path of the cyclone, closed on the ministry's advice.
At Greymouth New World there was a rush of panic buying on basics all day yesterday, whereas the regular morning delivery made it in this morning with no problems.
New World owner-operator Victoria Boyes said it was "business as usual", but stressed that if things changed for the worse, customers and staff would not be put at risk.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said they were keeping a watching brief on the central business district, and were mindful of the risk of loose roofing iron flying about.
"Emergency services are on standby. The biggest concern is the wind. We are set up for an extreme event," Kokshoorn said.
"If you have major problems, phone council."
All three West Coast councils had activated their emergency operations centres.
Civil defence said in an update just before noon: "There is potential that the weather forecasted will change over the coming hours.
Forecast rainfall amounts were reduced to between 90mm and 120mm.
The council asked people to check on neighbours and family members.
The Grey District Council closed the Runanga pool until Thursday; the Regent Theatre was also shut.
The Department of Conservation closed the Copland Track south of Fox Glacier.
- Greymouth Star