Weather: Rain, wind and flooding continue to cause havoc in South Island

Wild weather continues to cause chaos in the South Island, with thousands of people still stranded on both of the island's coasts.

Severe flooding at the weekend closed part of State Highway 1 and 72 and Rangitata, north of Timaru, while slips over on the West Coast blocked State Highway 6.

A state of emergency was declared in Timaru, with flooding of the Rangitata River causing extreme damage in the area.

Fibre cables have been cut, power pylons have come down and roads have been damaged.

River levels in the region were monitored overnight, while crews worked to reopen the Inland Scenic Route 72 at Upper Rangitata Bridge.

Flooding on the Rangitata River.
Flooding on the Rangitata River. Photo credit: Newshub.

Emergency management teams are expected to make the call around 8am on Monday as to whether they can open the town's bridge.

"As much as we like having people in the district, we know that they want to get elsewhere so we're putting all our efforts into trying to get this one crossing back and going," says Timaru District Council spokesperson Stephen Doran. "And we'll hopefully have it open initially for priority vehicles and supplies to get through."

An emergency accommodation centre was opened at the Southern Trust Events Centre.

Stranded tourists

At least 1000 tourists were stranded in Franz Josef overnight, with Westland District Council Mayor Bruce Smith saying road access out of the town may not be restored until at least Friday.

NZTA spokesperson Pete Connors says travellers on the West Coast can expect to stay put for the time being, as a number of roads remain closed due to high river levels and slips.

Rain caused slips south of Harihari.
Rain caused slips south of Harihari. Photo credit: Newshub.

"We've basically got a road opening from Harihari in the North through to Hokitika, but everything between Hari Hari and Hokitika still remains closed," Connors told Newshub.

"There are pretty significant problems between what we call on the mountain Hercules Hills, which is between Harihari and  Whataroa. So it will be some time before we get that part of the network open."

Only essential services and residential access are allowed south of Hokitika as far as Harihari.

Connors warned people from attempting to travel before given the green light.

"Don't move until we've definitely given the message that the road's open," he said.

On Sunday stranded travellers in Timaru took to flying by helicopter to get to Christchurch. Airport.

Helicopter company Heliventures offered $750 flights from Timaru, and was inundated with customers.

"We've just had calls every couple of minutes and we've just been directing people to come straight to the airport and we'd fit them in," the company's chief executive Nicki McMillan said.

McMillan said Timaru Airport was "crazy busy" on Sunday as hundreds of people poured in.

"Pretty much everyone we've flown has been desperate to get to Christchurch Airport which is where we've been landing to make international flights."

Meanwhile in the North Island, the Met Service had issued a severe rain watch for the Central North Island, in Taumarunui, Taupo, Taihape and the inland parts of Whanganui, as well on the East Coast in the ranges of Bay of Plenty east of Whakatane and in the ranges of Gisborne. 

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