Up to 400 people including tourists are trapped after the road to Milford Sound has been destroyed by rain.

A State of Emergency has been declared for Fiordland and MetService has issued its first-ever Red Severe Weather Warning, signalling an extreme weather event which could cause significant impact and disruption.

A flooded section of State Highway 94 after rain lashed the region. Photo / NZTA
A flooded section of State Highway 94 after rain lashed the region. Photo / NZTA

Civil Defence has confirmed 382 visitors and staff are stuck for at least the next day - because of flooding and slips in the Sound and along Milford Road.

NZTA journey manager Peter Brown said a small number of tourists were earlier choppered out from Forks Bridge, about 1.5 km from the Homer Tunnel.

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A busload of 27 people at Hollyford Rd was also expected to be airlifted out between 3pm and 4pm.

"There is extensive damage from Lake Gunn to the Homer Tunnel which will delay us opening this road quickly and there is still a section we haven't inspected due to bad weather preventing a fly-over," Brown said.

He said the road was badly damaged between the tunnel and the divide. The Hollyford Rd to Gunns Camp would also remain closed until at least Tuesday.

Emergency Management Southland controller Angus McKay said everyone was safe and warm - staying at Mitre Peak Lodge or on tourist boats - with plenty of food.

The disruption was due to high tides and the flooding Cleddau River, which are causing the problem, he said.

Milford Sound Lodge posted on Facebook that their guests were also safe and well.

You may have heard Fiordland is currently experiencing high rainfall and the Milford Road is currently closed. Milford...

Posted by Milford Sound Lodge on Sunday, 2 February 2020

"You may have heard Fiordland is currently experiencing high rainfall and the Milford Road is currently closed ... Certainly, an interruption to travel plans and business as usual, but the main message to family and friends is everyone is safe and being well looked after," the post said.

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Southland mayor Gary Tong said he didn't know exactly how many vehicles are trapped on Milford Road between Cascade Creek and the Chasm, but they were working hard to get people out.

Staff would be assessing the weather later this afternoon to see if they can evacuate those with medical conditions.

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Blue Duck Cafe and Bar manager Sandra Lawrence said mainly staff members were gathered at the cafe. Although the workers lived locally, they were unable to get home at this stage and were waiting for the next Civil Defence update at 8.30pm.

"Everyone is under shelter, watered and fed and settled in basically ... There's no access on the roads."

"All I can tell you at the moment, is we are safe and sound, all at the cafe and just waiting on the next update at 8.30pm," she said.

"We are just sitting here - waiting it out."

State of Emergency declared for Fiordland as roads destroyed and tourists trapped. Video / NZTA

MetService is also urging people in Westland south of Hokitika and Fiordland north of George Sound to act now to protect their animals and property as more rain is expected to drench the region.

The state forecaster has issued its first-ever Red Severe Weather Warning, which was introduced last year to signal the most extreme weather events where significant impact and disruption is expected.

Flooding on the Milford Rd. Photo / NZTA
Flooding on the Milford Rd. Photo / NZTA

The warning comes as a State of Emergency is declared in Fiordland and 350mm of rain in the past 24 hours at Milford Sound has triggered flooding and slips and left Milford Road closed.

A further 300mm to 450mm of rain is forecast for parts of Fiordland and Westland by Tuesday afternoon, causing more disruption to the area.

MetService has warned the heavy rain will cause dangerous river conditions, flooding and slips and could lead to other roads being blocked and communities becoming isolated.

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There has been 350mm of rain in the past 24 hours at Milford Sound, closing Milford Road. MetService expect a further 300-450mm of rain in parts of Fiordland and Westland by Tuesday afternoon, which will cause dangerous river conditions, flooding and slips. Some roads may become impassable, and communities may become isolated.

Much of the rest of the South Island is under warning for heavy rain as well, with most of the rain leaving our shores on Tuesday afternoon or evening.

This is the first Red Warning MetService has issued since introducing this new level of warning reserved for the most extreme weather events where significant impact and disruption is expected.

MetService meteorologist and head of weather communication Lisa Murray said: "This Red Warning is issued after consultation with the West Coast Regional Council and the local Civil Defence after careful consideration of the impacts the area could see in this kind of weather event."

There has already been significant rainfall in Milford Sound with the weather gauge recording 350mm in 24 hours till 10am this morning, closing State Highway 94 (Milford Road).