By RNZ and ODT
The evacuation of 195 tourists from Milford Sound has been put off until Wednesday due to weather conditions after flooding caused road slips and cut access to and from the township.
About 70 "stragglers'', located on the Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel (State Highway 94), were evacuated by helicopter although nearly 500, including tourists and about 300 staff, remain trapped in Milford Sound.
While heavy rain warnings still remain in place across much of the South today, the MetService has lifted its red warning for Fiordland, saying heavy rain was easing in the area.
People were advised to keep up to date with the latest forecasts in case any changes were made.
Emergency Management Southland controller Angus McKay said weather conditions did not look promising for helicopter access today and flooding and road closures across Southland meant it was better for the tourists to remain in Milford where they were safe and being cared for.
"Road closures mean we cannot get the tourists to any of their destinations if we bring them out of Milford and there are accommodation challenges due to other travellers being caught up in the effects of the flooding which is becoming widespread across Southland.
"Forecasts look better for tomorrow, so we will continue with plans to safely evacuate everybody in the morning."
A rescue operation was under way after 31 people were left stranded when a landslide hit Howden Hut on the Routeburn Track. Two people suffered minor injuries.
McKay said the priority this morning was to get the 31 out from the hut area, and others from other huts on various tracks.
"We don't have an exact number of people in the different huts, but we are working with the helicopter pilots on how the evacuations can be done," Mr McKay said.
The landslide hit the hut about 1.30am.
A state of emergency was declared in the area yesterday afternoon as heavy rain and slips trapped the tourists on tracks and roads, stranded others in accommodation at Milford Sound, and closed State Highway 94, the only road into Milford Sound.
MetService forecaster Lewis Ferris said one metre of rain had fallen in 60 hours in Milford Sound, and 600mm of that was in the 24 hours to about 7am today.
"Those are numbers some of our most experienced forecasters haven't seen before," Ferris said.
"So 1000mm in an entire event has been seen before, but to get that in two-and-a-half days has been quite a lot."
Emergency Management Southland controller Angus McKay said those inside Howden Hut were safe and awaiting evacuation.
A doctor in the hut looked after "a couple of people" who had been injured, McKay said.
The priority was to get them out, along with trampers on other parts of the Routeburn or Hollyford tracks.
"We're just waiting for that all important break in the weather so that we can get the helicopters in," McKay said.
A helicopter was sent in yesterday but had to turn back in the heavy rain.
The track is extensively damaged and flooded around the hut so walking out was not an option for anyone on the Routeburn or Hollyford track, McKay said.
About 70 people were airlifted out of the section of Milford Road that is blocked on the Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel and from some of the walking track huts yesterday afternoon.
The 195 tourists in lodges in the Milford Sound area, where 200 hotel and lodge staff are also stranded, may be stuck there for another day.
"They're warm and accommodated and being fed so they're not really our top priority, it's really the people out on the eastern side of the Homer Tunnel who we need to get down from these huts and lodges," McKay said. The 100 people still stranded were on the tracks, the road and on the coast at Martins Bay and Big Bay
"The forecast keeps changing - we might have a window later on this morning but then the rain comes back down - and we're actually seeing the rest of the region getting some flooding on the roads."
MetService issued a red warning for Westland south of Hokitika and Fiordland north of George Sound. A red warning means the the effects would be significant and immediate action is neeed to protect people and property.