State of Emergency declared in Westland as tourists trapped in Franz Josef

A State of Emergency has been declared in Westland.

Torrential rain on the West Coast has caused widespread damage to roads, trapping tourists in Franz Josef overnight. The whole region has been hit by 700mm of rain in just 24 hours.

The State of Emergency, declared at 6pm on Tuesday evening, applies to the entire Westland District Council area - roughly from Hokitika South to Haast.

Westland is no stranger to rain, but on Tuesday it got a drenching. More than 500mm of rain fell in the last 24 hours and it's still pelting down.

Rivers all along the south West Coast have risen to alarming levels, and are dangerously close to bursting their banks.

"There was 390mm last night in Milford, and coming this way there are another 350 predicted," Westland DC Mayor Bruce Smith said.  "It's a lot of water."

The sheer amount of water is a shock for all.

"Never seen nothing like this before," said local Sam Campbell.

"I haven't experienced anything like this before so it's an interesting experience, but I was hoping to see the area without the rain," said tourist Simon Leung.

Franz Josef has been left isolated. State Highway 6 is closed from Makaroa in Central Otago to south of Hokitika, leaving everyone stranded.

"The roads are closed, the bridge is washed out, so I'm just going to just stay here," said local Allen Ward.

The normally busy bus fleet was parked up with no way out.

"There was a bus supposed to be driving out today," tourists bus driver Sam Mackay said. "We got stuck a little bit over the bridge and had to come back into town and bring another 50 people in, so there's going to be probably 400 to 500 people from buses we have to find somewhere to stay."

For everyone at Franz Josef, it's an anxious wait for the heavy rain to pass and get back on the road.

Visitor Roger King said he expects to be stuck for at least one more day.

"But hopefully not more, because our plane back to England leaves Thursday from Christchurch."

Local accommodation suppliers are finding beds for everyone stuck.

"Everyone works together in the town quite well," said motelier Logan Skinner. "I've already called others this morning to make sure we have enough room to accommodate people, and those who want to stay longer and those who want to arrive are accommodated too."

With the rain set to continue to fall through the night, river levels will rise even higher - placing authorities on high alert in the hope that the bridges hold up and river banks aren't breached against the force of water cascading downstream.


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