Westland Milk Products says it is working hard to minimise the disruption to milk collection caused by the extremely heavy rain that hit the West Coast yesterday.

The co-operative is continuing to process milk. However, it is unable to collect milk from approximately 60 farms south of Hokitika because of road closures resulting from storm damage.

Westland said in a statement it was also dealing with disruption to its transport networks, with both road and rail closed through Arthurs Pass yesterday and the road likely to remain out for a few days. This was placing considerable pressure on storage space at Hokitika, with finished product not able to be cleared from site as quickly as usual.

Read more: Schoolboys trapped by flood waters make it out safely

Advertisement

Chief executive Toni Brendish said Westland's first priority was to manage the safety of its employees during difficult working conditions and ensure that safety of product and processing was not compromised. It also needed to focus on options to get stored goods off site so usual processing could continue.

"Our thoughts are also with those farmers who have experienced quite serious flooding on their properties, they're in a tough situation. As soon as we are able, we will get to them. However, until the road transport authorities lift the road closure designation, we cannot send our tankers through."

Brendish said some farmers would have to dispose of milk as ran out of storage space on-farm. How much was unknown at this stage.

The disruption to transport through Arthurs Pass meant Westland was calling in all available road transport to get product and supplies through via Lewis Pass, and identifying potential storage space at or near Hokitika to hold finished product until it could be transported.

"If we run out of room, we can't process new milk," Brendish said. "So while we want to get to all our shareholders as soon as possible, simultaneously we have to find ways of getting finished product off site and on its way to our warehouse at Rolleston or other storage areas.

"The good thing is that, unlike the damage of cyclone Fehi, we have not lost communication to our shareholders, or power at Hokitika. Processing is continuing and we are liaising with our farmers as often as necessary to ensure they are OK, and to update them on our efforts to get back to business as usual."

The Hokitika factory itself experienced significant storm water flooding at the peak of the storm as drains backed up because of the height of flooding in the nearby Hokitika River. Staff were busy cleaning, checking for damage and making sure that health, safety and food quality requirements had not been compromised.

The situation for Westland as at 10am today was:

·Roads North of Hokitika, with the exception of the Lake Haupiri area, were accessible and milk collection was continuing.

·The road South of Hokitika remained closed. The next update from the roading authority was scheduled for 3pm today.

·As road access became available, Westland would endeavour to get back to normal collections as soon as possible.

·The factory was operating as normal.

·Contingencies were in place to move finished product.

At this stage, Brendish said, customer orders were not affected.