Weather: Marlborough residents able to return home after river levels drop, State Highway 1 to reopen

Officials in Marlborough are "hopeful" they can get to work fixing vital infrastructure on Sunday as weather conditions in the region begin to clear, with evacuated residents permitted to return to their homes.

Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor says the rain has now stopped and river levels are dropping, taking pressure off the stop-bank system.

A State of Emergency was declared in the Marlborough District on Saturday, with around 900 people evacuated from their homes as heavy rainfall caused significant flooding. 

"We were lucky overnight," Taylor told More FM on Sunday morning.

"The rain stopped and the river has started to drop, [and] that's taken the pressure off the stop-bank system. It was that pressure that was causing us great concern and it was that pressure that was the reason for us having to evacuate those lower-lying communities."

Residents in Renwick, Spring Creek, Tuamarina and the Lower Wairau were given evacuation orders on Saturday.

Initially Renwick residents were the lucky ones able to return to their homes on Sunday, but the Marlborough District Council has now given everyone the all-clear.

Taylor said the improved weather conditions also meant the council could get to work fixing vital infrastructure.

"We're looking hopeful. We're quite happy with the way the weather is shaping up here, we're back to blue skies and that's uplifting, so we're not expecting any more rain.

"The roads are not in a great state and certainly the stop-bank network has been challenged, and so we're just hoping that further out in the coming weeks we don't face anything more like this."

Taylor said work is underway to fix the main state highways connecting Blenheim and Nelson.

"Blenheim to Picton connectivity we're hoping [will be fixed] late morning, and Blenheim to Nelson connectivity we're hoping mid to late-afternoon."

In an update, Marlborough District Council confirmed the district's main highway, SH1, including the Wairau River Bridge, would be reopening from around 12pm.

"Evacuees are being reunited with vehicles stranded along SH1 between Picton and Blenheim. Stranded vehicles will also be removed by Police if the owner cannot be located or the vehicle is damaged," the council said.

SH6 between Renwick and Havelock is not expected to open until mid-afternoon at the earliest, however SH63 is expected to remain closed "for some days".

"Many local roads are still closed," it added. 

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency journey manager Tresca Forrester said crews had been out across the South Island since first light assessing road damage, inspecting bridges and clearing debris from blocked and flooded highways.

"Contractors are aiming to reopen SH1 by midday and we expect to reopen a route through to Nelson by the end of the day via SH6 and SH65. We are also assessing flood damage on SH7 north of Hanmer this morning which completes this critical link," Forrester said.

She said until the full scale of the damage caused by the floods is known, it's too early to say with certainty when other roads will reopen.

"With the massive rainfall we've just experienced, many areas will remain highly susceptible to slips, or to further flooding if the rain returns. Please keep safe and take extra care out on the roads today."

Taylor said fixing the roads would be the main priority for the council on Sunday.

"For us it's about those main arterials, at the same time we'll be assessing the local roads and we're starting to stand up our welfare response to make sure that all of those smaller communities that are isolated in between have options and are being taken care of."

Her message to residents in the area was: "If you're in a safe place just stay there at this point in time".