West Coast lashed by wild weather

A huge deluge of rain is causing havoc on the West Coast, with slips, washouts and flooding across the region.

Severe weather is now expected to hit Wellington, with a strong wind warning in place.

Here's what you need to know:

 

  • A State of Emergency is in place on the West Coast
  • An elderly woman's body has been found near flood waters north of Hokitika
  • There is flooding in Westland, with aerial assessment to take place on Wednesday
  • The Waiho Bridge has been washed away
  • State Highway 6 is closed between Hokitika and Makarora, a slip has also blocked SH73 at Arthurs Pass
  • Seven people have been displaced from their properties at Waitoto
  • A welfare hall has been set up in Haast for evacuees
  • Parents have been advised to check with schools to see if they are open
  • All Ritchies Bus services on the west coast have been suspended

12:55pm - A number of roads have been reopened, although some are down to one lane in places.

The following roads have reopened:

  • SH6 south of Hokitika to Franz Josef is open, but  down to one lane in several places
  • SH6 south of Fox Glacier to Haast open with several one lane sections
  • SH6 south of Haast through to Makaroroa in Otago is also open with one lane sections

SH6 at the Waiho River will stay closed until the bridge across the river has been replaced. This is expected to be done in the next week to ten days.

12:51pm - Video sent to Newshub shows a paddock in Franz Josef flooded due to the rain. A huge roar of rushing water can be heard in the footage.

A flooded paddock with a pile of hay in it.
A still from the video. Photo credit: Supplied/Andrew Douglas

12:30pm - Westpac has offered relief options for both business and personal customers affected by the flooding.

The bank says measures offered to customers may include temporary overdrafts, suspension of principal loan payments and deferred payment on business credit cards.

Any customers impacted by the severe weather should call 0800 772 771 to discuss their individual needs.

12:06pm - Police have provided more detail on the woman's body found in the flood waters.

A spokesperson said in a statement investigations appear to show the woman got out of a vehicle she was driving and tried to cross the flood waters on foot.

She was then swept away in the surface flooding on Arahura Valley Rd. The investigation is ongoing and her death will be referred to the coroner.

11:45am - Police are currently at the scene of a sudden death in Arahura Valley, north of Hokitika.

A spokesperson said an elderly woman's body has been recovered near the flood waters around 9:19am on Wednesday.

The spokesperson could not confirm if the death was weather related.

11:32am - The NZTA released some photos of the damage to SH73 at Kelley's Creek after the rain.

The photos show flooding spilling onto the road as well as piles of shingle and debris.

A flooded river with road works vehicles working on it.
Flooding on SH73. Photo credit: Supplied/NZTA

10:26am - MetService has provided an update on when the severe weather warnings will end.

The heavy rain watch for Buller will expire at 11am, while the strong wind watch in Wellington will expire at 2pm.

All of the warnings are expected to expire today.

10:26am - The heavy rain is expected to hit the North Island tonight, after passing through Buller around 11am on Wednesday.

"Heavy Rain Warnings are expected to ease this morning, with Buller currently receiving its heaviest rain until 11am," MetService said in a tweet.

"The front and heaviest rain travels northwards towards the central North Island tonight meaning an easing trend for the South Island."

10:07am - Flights in Wellington have been delayed due to winds in the region. Gusts of up to 120km/h are expected on Wednesday.

"We have had some minor delays due to crosswinds but mostly arriving and departing as scheduled," an airport spokesperson said.

9:22am - The weather has caused power outages across the West Coast. Civil Defence said Awatuna, Kaihinu and Kokatahi have been affected by the outages.

Tourism operator Skydive Franz Josef has been forced to suspend operations due to the weather. Its pilots are on standby to help with any relocations or evacuations for people, plants or stock.

8:59am - NIWA has provided updated figures on the amount of rain that has fallen over the South Island, saying almost a year's worth of rain has fallen in some places.

"High elevation areas have exceeded 1 metre. That's nearly Auckland's average annual rainfall," it said in a tweet.

8:41am - A helicopter has assessed the wreckage of the Waiho Bridge, photos show it hovering above the empty piers.

A helicopter hovers in the air above piers sticking out of the water.
A helicopter assessing the bridge. Photo credit: Newshub.

8:19am - Eyewitness Jacob Schonberger watched the Waiho River bridge collapse. He said it was a once in a lifetime experience.

"It was just something you never see ever in your life, it's a once in a lifetime thing really, just amazing, unbelievable."

Schonberger said the bridge made a lot of noise as the road tore free of the piles, which may not have been picked up in video of the collapse.

"[There was] lots of banging and twisting of steel...  sounding similar to a ship docking into a harbour or something.

"Lots of loud, thunderous groaning of steel and metal."

8:06am - Locals from Westland are worried about the effect the loss of the Waiho Bridge could have on tourism.

But Westland Civil Defence spokesperson Andy Thompson told The AM Show it's lucky no one was injured.

"We had a police officer there filming it... here in Greymouth we actually watched it go live so we can confirm no one was on there."

A bridge twisting and falling apart.
The Waiho Bridge collapse. Photo credit: Supplied/Murray Draper

7:47am - Newshub reporter Holly Carran is in Westland and said repairing the Waiho Bridge is a priority, but it's going to be difficult.

"They have to wait for the water to subside a little bit, so that they can get down and inspect the piers, which they think will be pretty damaged.

"You can see just how the road part of the bridge lifted off and chipped away at those piers."

Carran said the rain moved north overnight on Tuesday and Hokitika was struck with a "huge deluge" around 3:30am on Wednesday.

7:23am - Rain will continue to cause havoc on the South Island on Wednesday, with Buller next in the firing line. The North Island will have bad weather too, a strong wind warning is in place for Wellington, with gusts of up to 120km/h expected.

"Thickening high cloud for the upper/western North Island today, rain moves into the southwest in the afternoon with heavy falls possible about Taranaki by evening," forecaster WeatherWatch said.

"The east coast is mainly dry, some rain pushes into Wairarapa late afternoon. Heavy rain eases about the upper/western South Island from afternoon, rain spilling into Canterbury and Marlborough clears up during the afternoon.

"Rain or showers about the lower South Island ease in the afternoon and mostly clears by evening." 

7:09am - Westland District Mayor has recalled standing on the Waiho Bridge before it was destroyed.

"I was on the bridge a couple of hours before it collapsed and you could feel boulders that in my view were the size of small cars hitting the bridge and it was quite scary," he told The AM Show.

"So I was very surprised a couple of hours later when it folded and went down the river. We haven't seen it since by the way."

 He said it was a lifeline for the community.

"It's not just tourists, there are substantial dairy farms on the south side of the Waiho River, so you know it's how we operate, it's how we live."

Newshub.

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