What you need to know:
- A state of emergency was declared in Queenstown this morning.
- Heavy rain has caused flooding, slips, and more than 100 people to be evacuated.
- Snow is now falling in the south.
- Queenstown has recorded its wettest 24-hour period in 24 years, Niwa says, and Wanaka had its wettest day in 17 years.
- Some schools, kindergartens and roads are closed today.
- Meanwhile, a large scrub fire near Twizel has been “largely confined”.
A major mop-up operation is underway in the adventure capital of Queenstown and other southern towns after wild weather brought landslides and heavy flooding, threatening homes.
Snow is now also falling in the wet and wild south as motorists are urged to take extreme caution and only travel if necessary.
Mayor Glyn Lewers made a state of emergency declaration at 6.33am today. It will initially last for seven days. It follows a state of emergency being declared across Southland yesterday as the region was battered by severe weather.
Some Queenstown residents had to evacuate last night and other residents had to be rescued from their cars.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it had been a tough night for many in the lower South Island and he encouraged people to follow the guidance of their local emergency management teams.
He said the Government is on standby to provide support required if needed - and he might head south but it “depends on the need”.
Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said they expecting a smaller amount of rain tonight, but given the rain that has already fallen, even small amounts can cause damage.
He said some areas in the Gore district were “completely cut off” and FENZ is prepared to intervene if required.
McAnulty told reporters the Government more broadly is prepared to assist Queenstown if needed.
“At this point, we haven’t had a request through,” he said.
McAnulty said there was a threat the rainfall could compound the water issue the town was already facing.
“This is just something on top of that, that is just going to make it incredibly difficult for those that live there and those that are visiting.”
As snow sweeps up through Central Otago and into Canterbury, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency says people should avoid travel. Dumps are likely along SH73 around Porters Pass this afternoon above 400m but may not get as far north as the Lewis Pass/ Hanmer area. SH80 into Mt Cook has just closed due to heavy snow.
“If you have an essential journey, you will need to build in extra time and please be informed of what might be ahead of you,” says Nicole Felts, journey manager.
At 10am, the local council gave an update, saying while the rain has now cleared, the first wave of mop-up action is underway.
The most affected areas are above the picturesque township and are now being assessed by a geotechnical engineer, supported by a drone operator, to “get a clearer understanding of the extent of the damage”.
The town is open and accessible and tourists have been out this morning.
It’s been Queenstown’s wettest 24-hour period in 24 years; 87mm fell from 9am yesterday to 9am today, Niwa says.
Wanaka had its wettest day in 17 years, recording 98mm.
Both spots had more than a month’s worth of rain in a day.
Up to 20 homes had been evacuated and more than 100 people had sought refuge overnight at the evacuation centre, the council says.
Debris had flowed into central areas and caused damage. Rain was expected to keep falling, to be replaced by snow after lunch.
Lewers said forestry slash was responsible for the damage that had led to the state of emergency being declared.
Queenstown councillor Matt Wong spoke of the “mess” on Queenstown’s Brecon St, where footage captured slash debris washing through and blocking roads.
“It looks like it happened about midnight. There was significant flooding that really brought the debris in through the township,” he told The Hits Southern Lakes Breakfast.
“As you look from town, you can see where the slips started from - a little creek there that’s turned into quite a significant slip.”
A nearby cemetery appeared to have taken a good brunt of the slip, Wong said. Logs and slash were scattered through the site.
“I’ve never seen it like this in all my life. There’s going to be some difficult questions asked.”
Power is still on and the debris flow was well away from the water treatment plant, Lewers said.
The mayor said the rain set in at midnight and intensified in the early hours. It had since eased but was still falling.
Flooding and debris flowed down Brecon St towards the town centre, causing damage and requiring evacuations from multiple properties on Reavers Lane, Fryer St and Hamilton Rd. Multiple roads were closed throughout the Queenstown town centre and around the district.
Queenstown Primary School, Whakatipu Kindergarten, other creche and Best Start Preschool are closed today.
There is currently no access to the Queenstown Medical Centre. Contractors are also responding to a sewage overflow at the Frankton Track. The track is closed and people are told to avoid the area.
It’s the latest water blow for New Zealand’s adventure capital and tourist mecca, after news this week of an outbreak of Cryptosporidium and confirmation Queenstown’s main water supply had no filter protecting it from the protozoan parasite. Locals and tourists could face months of having to boil water until treatment plants are upgraded with barriers against cryptosporidium, the mayor has said.
In a separate statement, Lewers said the declaration was necessary given the considerable rainfall experienced by Queenstown over the past 24 hours, and followed formal advice from Emergency Management Otago group controller Matt Alley.
“The current weather event is an active and evolving situation. We have been working with emergency management throughout the night to assess the full extent of the situation in the current conditions,” he said.
“Several flooding and debris events have been identified and we’re continuing to contact affected people including evacuating over 100 people. A temporary evacuation centre has been set up at St Peters Church to manage evacuees who have not been able to relocate.”
People are asked to avoid travel through or around the town centre or take extreme care if it was unavoidable.
Fire and Emergency staff were called to a home in Fernhill after reports a landslide was threatening a house at 7.51pm. Upon arrival, it was found the residents had already evacuated and there was extensive flooding around the home.
Nearby, Fire and Emergency crews were called to a landslide behind a property in Reavers Lane, Queenstown at 7.33pm. The occupants of four homes self-evacuated on advice from the crews.
Another crew was sent to Glenorchy-Queenstown Rd at 7.13pm after a landslide fell, trapping a car. One person was rescued and was uninjured.
Queenstown Lakes District Council said in a Facebook post after midnight that emergency crews were responding to another debris flow behind the Queenstown Cemetery next to Brecon Street.
Meanwhile, in Glenorchy, rain had overtopped the Glenorchy lagoon, and it was looking to impact low-lying areas of the township.
Anyone feeling unsafe had been encouraged to self-evacuate and stay with friends and family. Evacuation centres have been opened at the Queenstown Memorial Hall and at Glenorchy School.
“The lagoon is still rising and we will continue to monitor.” Many roads have also been closed due to flooding and debris.
The council said 68 people had been evacuated from the Brecon St area and 41 evacuated from the Reavers Lane area because of flooding and debris pouring down the central city roads.
“This is an active and evolving situation,” the council warned.
Southland in state of emergency, water plant fails in Tuatapere
A region-wide state of emergency was declared for Southland on Thursday amid widespread surface flooding and landslides, which forced residents to evacuate and trapped others in cars.
The failure of a water treatment plant at Tuatapere, near Invercargill, had yesterday left the remote town with eight hours of drinking water. Water tankers were being brought in.
The plant failed after it was inundated by floodwaters.
Roads in the district have been closed due to flooding, including SH6 from Parawa to Kingston and SH1 from Gore to Mataura.
Schools and kindergartens throughout Southland were likely to be closed today, Emergency Management Southland said.
Last night Southland District Council warned the reservoir should have enough drinking water to last eight hours until the plant could be restored. People were asked not to take showers, wash dishes or flush toilets.
Police also rescued two people from a car stuck in flood water on Gore Mataura Highway, between Jubilee Ave and Given Rd.
Emergency Management Southland group controller Simon Mapp encouraged everyone to avoid contact with the floodwaters as wastewater and stormwater systems across Southland towns struggled to cope with volumes.
“We would encourage people to stay home and off the roads as surface flooding is impacting both town and rural roads. Not all roads affected by flooding will be signposted, so extreme caution is needed,” said Mapp.
This morning, however, sandbags were being cleared at the Otautau bridge this morning as the floodwaters did not go over the stopbanks, Southland District Council Incident Management Team manager Fran Mikulicic said.
“We are really pleased that our team and contractors have managed to get water back on in Tuatapere as they have got a generator set up and all critical plant material was above the floodwaters, which are slowly receding. The team has worked really hard to pull this together, so a big thank you,” she said.
There are also water tankers in the town for drinking water for the residents. The boil water notice remains until further notice.
The surface flooding came after 72mm of rain fell yesterday morning, Gore district mayor Ben Bell reported.
In Gore and Mataura, the stormwater and wastewater network has been overwhelmed and water was threatening homes yesterday.
Bell told TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning the town’s main river, the Mataura, wouldn’t peak until 7pm tonight so it was being watched carefully.
Rain in the area had fallen to a light drizzle.
He told Three’s AM Show the Mataura would hopefully be below 2020 flood levels but modelling was underway.
Bell said officials would be looking at tributaries, the region’s roads and the river itself.
Two community hubs opened last night, in Gore and Mataura. A “fair few people” had self-evacuated but not many stayed overnight, he said.
One centre would remain open today but the efforts were now focusing on cleanup and assessing damage.
Bell said 20 homes were flooded yesterday and garages and basements remained inundated.
Firefighters would be pumping out water from affected homes today, and officials would be assessing damage across the district.
Drinking water remained safe to drink, he said.
Bell said the weather was looking cloudy but rain was not forecast for today.
“That’s a relief. I don’t think our rivers need any more water,” he said.
The holidays will start one day early today for St Peter’s College students as the school is overcome with floodwater. Exams have been postponed due to the severe flooding.
Council staff were protecting property with sandbags or by pumping water.
“However, this is a time-consuming process, so we ask people to be patient and kind,” Bell said.
He advised people to monitor their radios and the council’s Facebook page and website for updates.
Hokonui radio host, Andy Muir told Gold Sport Radio this morning that Gore township’s drainage system “just couldn’t cope” with the downpours yesterday.
He said a few low-lying houses were evacuated and local streams were well-flowing.
“The beautiful weather on Wednesday evening was literally the calm before the storm,” said Muir.
“There was a lot of talk some places experienced about 130mm of rain outside of Gore, but it was localised rain in a lot of areas.”
A number of roads will remain cut off this morning, Muir said, authorities shut off State Highway 1 headed south out of Gore so water could be pumped from an intersection.
He expected roads would start re-opening this morning as floodwaters drain away.
“It’s a mild morning here in Hokonui, I had a pleasant stroll down the road.”
Gore council officials say surface flooding has gone down in most places and many roads have reopened.
However, care is needed on the roads, and some are still closed, including SH1 from Glendhu Rd in Mataura to Charlton Rd/Salford St in Gore. Detour for all vehicles is via SH96, Waimumu Rd and Charlton Rd.
Other Gore area roads closed are: Otama Flat Rd, Bury St, River Rd, River St, from Hyde to Salford streets, River Terrace, Ontario St, MacGibbon Rd, Woolwich St, Maitland St, from the flood bank, Clyde St, Mataura.
Most schools throughout the district are closed today. Community emergency hubs remain available at the Croydon Lodge, in Gore, and Mataura Community Centre.
Severe weather continues for South Island
Last night, 300m of rain was expected to fall on top of the massive amounts already fallen in Southland according to MetService.
And severe weather warnings and watches are in place for much of the South Island today as a very slow-moving front makes its way up the country bringing heavy rain, heavy snow and strong winds.
That includes a swathe of heavy snow warnings for inland Canterbury including the Mackenzie Country where up to 40 cm of snow is expected to fall from early today.
MetService said snow could also affect Otago where a watch has been issued.
The forecaster warns possible impacts could include travel disruption, adverse conditions for livestock and damage to trees and power lines.
State Highway 6 between Haast and Lake Hawea is now closed due to multiple slips, Waka Kotahi NZTA says.
Meanwhile, the “odd irrigator may have fallen over” in the farming regions of Southland as floodwaters created challenges for those working the land.
Chris Dillon, Southland’s Federated Farming president said the rising waters made things tough for the district’s ongoing lambing season.
“It’s harder to shift stock this time of year,” he said.
“You can move stock to higher ground, but it’s harder to move sheep with lambs as they don’t move that fast.”
Otago’s president, Luke Kane said there was a fair amount of damage in the farmlands of central Otago.
He said the further south one goes, the more destruction they’d find.
Pukaki Downs, Twizel fire largely contained
Fire and Emergency New Zealand says the weather front has helped in dampening down and containing the Pukaki Downs and Tekapo vegetation fires.
State Highway 80 from Pukaki to Mount Cook, which was shut down by the fire, has been reopened this morning.
However, incident controller Stephen Butler said people must still exercise caution when travelling.
“Please drive with care. Residents are able to return, but need to maintain situational awareness.”
“There will still be firefighting activity in the area including ground crews, heavy machinery and helicopters assessing the fire.”
Firefighting operations will continue today, with ground crews and heavy machinery operating where they can.
The rainfall - 10.4mm at Pukaki and 42mm at Glenntanner - helped fight the fire but has also hindered ground operations, Butler said.
Helicopters will be operating when weather permits.
Another vegetation fire near Tekapo had a flare-up around 1am this morning, but was contained and will be assessed further this morning.