It was a paramedic's "horror story" - trying to get a woman apparently in labour to hospital in the middle of a flood.
The woman showed up at the Marton ambulance station at 1.38am on Sunday, just as the rivers around the the region were reaching their worst, St John Whanganui territory manager John Stretton said.
Both a helicopter and a St John four wheel drive were dispatched to reach them as there was no way for the ambulance to get through to either of the Whanganui or Palmerston North hospitals while the rain poured, bringing down slips and trees across roads, and flooding rivers.
To make matters worse, the helicopter was unable to land and meet the ambulance where they were "stranded" north of Bulls. The weather and visibility meant all they could see was flooded paddocks, with no safe landing spot in sight.
Mr Stretton said they had to resort to plan B, linking up with the four-wheel drive which battled its way through from Feilding. They managed to reach Palmerston North at 4.14am, but it was found she was not in labour. She was discharged and went home.
"It's a terrible pun but I'm going to say it. She made it in one piece," Mr Stretton said. "It was a real mission actually . . . it's every ambo's horror story."
Mr Stretton liaised with ambulance officers from where he was based in Whanganui, and other territory managers and communications centres were involved in getting the woman safely transported.
"She was well taken care of. The guys reassured her that one way or another we would get her through."
The woman was in "active labour" by the time they arrived in Palmerston North, "so you don't want to delay things".
"It was a challenge. Part of the problem we had, we didn't know exactly what roads were closed.
"I can't over-emphasise how big a team job it was actually. It was just lucky that St John had a four-wheel drive available at the time."
Over the weekend, many Whanganui St John officers were working without a break to help out during the flooding.
"A lot of our guys worked quite long hours spending prolonged periods of time wet, missing their breaks to try and get their jobs done," Mr Stretton said.
"I'm really proud of the way the staff in this area worked."
'Quite a long recovery'
A state of local emergency remains in place for Whanganui with no intention to change at this stage
The Whanganui River was still receding and was under danger levels, said Civil Defence national controller Shane Bayley.
Relatively dry weather over the next week or so meant recovery operations could begin, Mr Bayley said, but the amount of damage done meant it would be a long process.
"I think we are going to see quite a long recovery from this event."
The government was currently deciding what to include in recovery packages that would be made available to people affected by the flooding, Mr Bayley said.
Cordons were in place within central Whanganui and the Anzac Parade area and the council asked people to stay away from these areas.
Horizons council controller Craig Grant said the Horizons Regional Council perspective was acting in two roles.
"The first is coordination of the emergency response across the Region in support of our city and district councils.
"The second is around assessment and management of the Region's flood protection assets.
"People and their welfare remains the top priority. Over 319 evacuees have registered with agencies region-wide, 244 of these are in the Whanganui District and it is understood that all have been accommodated," he said.
"In Rangitikei, Hunterville residents are being asked to boil domestic water until further notice due to water quality issues. Marton residents are also being asked to conserve water.
"Cell phone coverage is still very poor in Marton which is causing some communication issues for people in the district."
Horizons Regional Council staff were also working with Fonterra, milk supply companies, Federated Farmers and Beef & Lamb to provide advice to affected farmers.
While many roads have reopened, some road closures were still in place- see www.nzta.govt.nz for the latest information on the State Highway network.
Information about local and district roads is available from local council websites.
Civil Defence will close emergency centres now Whanganui East is no longer isolated, said Wanganui Girls' acting principal Nita Pond.
Wanganui Girls was the main Civil Defence emergency centre in Whanganui following flooding over the weekend.
"The Civil Defence are looking at pulling out now," Ms Pond said this morning.
"They have opened the Dublin St Bridge which means people can come and go."
Ms Pond said most evacuees had not stayed long after registering with Civil Defence and only a handful had stayed overnight.
Insurance claims doubled over the weekend due to flooding in the regions, AA Insurance said.
AA spokeswoman Amelia MacAndrew said the company was ready to help lower North Island customers with their flood-related claims, and urged those requiring emergency repairs to call as soon as possible.
"We're keen to hear from customers who are unable to stay in their homes and need assistance, or who require urgent repairs to their homes to keep them watertight and warm. We also want to hear from those who have been able to assess the damage to their home, contents or car," she said.
One man was removed from his home by Civil Defence at midnight as the river level was rising.
He later heard from neighbours that the whole area was flooded and water was at the same level as their windows.
Another person's garage, and a portion of their house was flooded, damaging carpet and furniture, with sewerage in the water, AA said.
"The most common types of damage so far have been flooded houses, including all their contents, and failed retaining walls. While many of our customers were evacuated over the weekend due to their homes being completely flooded, we won't know the extent of the damage or the cost until they're able to return to make a full assessment," said Ms MacAndrew.
AA Insurance expected the number of claims to rise over the coming days as customers gain access to their property and assess the damage.
"While it's important to think safety first during these types of emergencies, customers who've been able to assess the damage to their property should give us a call. There is no rush to make a claim, but the sooner you let us know, the sooner we can help you."
'It's the third time it's happened'
Whanganui east resident Ron Roebuck, 80, built his Raine St property 60 years ago, and said although the weekend's flooding bad, it wasn't the worst he'd seen over the years.
"It's the third time it's happened. I would say the first time it happened was the worst, but this comes very close to it ... it was bad, make no mistake about that about. I wouldn't like to see it again."
Mr Roebuck's neighbour, Whanganui deputy mayor Hamish McDouall had just driven in to town for the first time via a detour and was shocked at what he saw along the way.
"Just even driving from Whanganui East into town, we took a route that put an extra 20ks on the trip, we've driven past I'd say 80 slips. Just the scale of it is extraordinary and that's just through one valley in one little rural area."
Mr McDouall said their family property got flooded a bit at the back of the property, however their house was lucky to remain unscathed.
"Raine St was cut off from the rest of Whanganui East, and then Whanganui East was cut off from Whanganui and then Whanganui was cut off from the rest of the world, it was kind of like three concentric circles of being cut off."
The clean-up operation from the record flooding in the central North Island could take up to a month.
More than 400 people were evacuated from flood-hit homes in lower North Island towns across Taranaki, Horowhenua, Manawatu, Rangitikei and Whanganui over the weekend.
Flooding caused road and bridge closures, cut power to homes and forced people across the regions to spend the night in emergency accommodation or with friends and family.
The flooding, described as a one in 85-year event, is the worst ever recorded in Whanganui - worse even than the lower North Island flooding of 2004, which led to more than $140 million in insurance claim payouts.
Lorraine Robertson-Smith, of Rata near Hunterville, said the Porewa Stream, which bordered their property, became a "raging and roaring river" with their stock marooned with no way out on Saturday.
"The horse was holding his head above the water. We cut fences and moved stock to a small elevated area at the back of the farm and just on dark had to accept that they were there for the night and hope they would be safe in the morning. The water levels were up to the armpits."
She said it would be a long time before the land recovered and expected feed bills for stock to be "horrendous".
Police are sending extra staff into the areas of Whanganui and Rangitikei where floodwaters have caused evacuations, slips and road closures.
The additional officers would work closely with Civil Defence, councils and volunteers to provide further assistance to residents in evacuated areas.
The clean up was ongoing, Central District Police said.Police were urging all people in the lower North Island, especially Whanganui and Rangitikei, to avoid non-essential travel.Some roads across Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu, Horowhenua and Kapiti remain closed or were down to one lane.
A cold snap was also forecast across the district in the next few days and motorists were being urged to drive carefully, police said.\
State of emergency
The state of emergency has been lifted for Rangitikei - but the trouble is not over just yet.
Flooding over the weekend caused a serious number of slips on the roads and the 25 people who were evacuated are facing another night away from their homes.
Rangitikei District Civil Defence controller Ross McNeil said a water treatment plant in Marton has suffered a fault this morning, meaning water in the area was now untreated.
Residents were being urged to conserve water and only use it for essential purposes, he said.
"If people are thinking about hosing down driveways and things just to hold off doing that until we can get the treatment plant back up and running," he said.
The plant was expected to be functioning later this afternoon.
About 25 people were evacuated but an unknown number self-evacuated as well, Mr McNeil said.
The volunteer response, especially from the local fire services, had been "heartening", he said.
A civil defence emergency shelter did not need to be set up but the team was on stand-by for that over the weekend.
The evacuated residents might be facing another night away from their homes as assessors looked at the extent of the damage to properties today, Mr McNeil said.
"If people have had damage to their property they really need to contact their insurance companies.
"We don't want to see people racing in and ripping up carpets and throwing out furniture until they've been in touch with their insurance assessors," he said.
Six crews were working on the extensively damaged roads around the area today and would be on duty for the "foreseeable future", Mr McNeil said.
A sewer line crossing the Tutaenui Stream had failed and staff were doing an assessment of the necessary repairs today.
All surface water and flood water needed to be considered as contaminated as a result, he said.
"Obviously mindful that water levels are still relatively high but also there's a lot of debris that's come down...so we're obviously wanting to make sure that it's safe before we undertake any of these repair works."
Taranaki remains in a state of emergency today after severe flooding caused evacuations and slips completely "obliterated" roads over the weekend.
Taranaki Civil Defence controller David Leask said the team was assessing the welfare needs of residents and isolated communities left without power today.
Power was cut to a number of communities throughout the region and about 50 households were still cut off.
Some areas were difficult to get to because of road damage - including Waitotara Valley Rd which was particularly hard hit.
Multiple slips had fallen with the road "completely obliterated" in places, he said.
State Highway 3 was now open but down to a single lane in places and State Highway 43 was only open from Stratford to Whangamomona.
People were being advised to stay away from beaches, rivers and streams until Tuesday because of potential contamination.
Boaties should be alert for flood debris that has been washed out to sea, he said.
Stratford District mayor Neil Volzke said there were new reports of slips coming in, adding to the significant number that have already made several roads impassable.
A number of areas were without power or telephone coverage in Stratford and there was virtually no cellphone reception, he said.
The extent and cost of the damage to infrastructure was still unknown, he said.
"Many of the locals in the affected areas are saying this is the worst weather event that we've had since the 1988 Cyclone Bola.
"Slips and trees that have fallen across the road make it extremely hazardous, it's going to cost a lot of money to fix it and it's going to take months rather than weeks," Mr Volzke said.
Visit the Civil Defence website for further updates.