NZ weather: States of emergency in Queenstown, Southland and Gore amid major flooding

A local state of emergency has been declared in Queenstown after heavy rain inundated the area.

About 100 evacuations are taking place in the district due to the risk of slips and surface flooding. 

It comes after states of emergency were declared in Southland and Gore on Thursday. Rain has reportedly eased in those districts on Friday but the Mataura River is yet to peak, which has authorities on notice.

The majority of schools throughout Southland are closed on Friday, giving students an early start to the school holidays. Queenstown's Wakatipu High School is also closed.

Torrential rain caused significant surface flooding throughout the parts of Southland. Several routes remained closed on Friday morning, including State Highway 1 between Gore and Mataura and State Highway 8 from Parawa to Kingston.

The council said the stormwater system in Gore and Maraura has been "overwhelmed" and is "causing surface flooding and water to threaten homes".

SH6 is one of several highways in the South Island which has been flooded.
SH6 is one of several highways in the South Island which has been flooded. Photo credit: Supplied/Waka Kotahi

Evacuations in Queenstown

More than 100 Queenstown homes have been evacuated amid threats of flooding and landslips. The Queenstown lakefront saw significant flooding early on Thursday evening.

"The current weather event is an active and evolving situation. We have been working with emergency management throughout the night to assess the full extent of the situation in the current conditions," Mayor Glen Lewers said in a statement on Friday.

"Several flooding and debris events have been identified and we're continuing to contact affected people including evacuating over 100 people. A temporary evacuation centre has been set up at St Peters Church to manage evacuees who have not been able to relocate.

"Please avoid travel through or around the town centre. If travel is essential, then please take extreme care."

About 20 Gore homes saved from 'complete' flooding

Gore Mayor Ben Bell said emergency services managed to save several homes from flooding on Thursday evening.

"I just want to say a huge shout out to volunteers who showed up today to do some sandbagging," he said in an update.

"And to the fire brigade and emergency services as well - they managed to save about 20 homes today from being completely flooded, so a big thanks to them."

Southland power outages

Several residents in the South Island have lost power due to overhead line damage.

PowerNet has reported outages in Winton, Te Anau Downs, Carmichael Rd, Fairfax, Gropers Bush, Riverton and Lora Gorge.

Invercargill pumping stations at 'full capacity'

In Invercargill, the city council said it was combating surface flooding as fast as possible.

"Our pumps are working at full capacity, but there's still a lot of water to move through," a council statement said on Thursday.

"Once the water levels have dropped, likely tomorrow, we will follow our standard clean-up procedures to clear up any contaminated locations."

Tuatapere residents asked to conserve water

Residents are being urged to conserve water as Emergency Management Southland warned on Thursday there was only eight hours worth of drinking water, after floodwaters stopped the water treatment plant at Tuatapere from working.

"They can do this by not taking showers, washing dishes or flushing the toilet."

Stay indoors and avoid travel 

Bell on Thursday urged residents to stay indoors and avoid travel.

Council staff were working to protect properties by pumping water and using sandbags, Bell said. However, he asked for people to be "patient and kind".

Emergency Management Southland group controller Simon Mapp said floodwater can make travel particularly hazardous.

"We would encourage people to stay home and off the roads as surface flooding is impacting both town and rural roads.

"Please also don't walk through floodwaters as there could be debris and uneven surfaces that can't be seen, and the water may be contaminated."

A community emergency hub has been opened at the Croydon Lodge in Gore and the Mataura Community Centre for people who need assistance. 

"The response is expected to be a short-lived, however managing the impacts and ensuring people's safety are the priorities," Mapp said.

Emergency services work into the night to pump flooded water off the roads.
Emergency services work into the night to pump flooded water off the roads. Photo credit: Gore District Council

Heavy rain in parts of the South Island 

According to MetService, the bottom of the South Island has already been hit with 40 to 50mm of rain today and thunderstorms are expected to bring even heavier bursts of rain.

Environment Southland continues to monitor river levels and flood warnings have been activated on the following rivers: 

  • Otapiri Stream 
  • Waiau River at Sunnyside 
  • Aparima River at Dunrobin  
  • Hamilton Burn at Waterloo Road 

So far, the heavy rain has closed SH6 north of Makarora in Otago and Haast on the West Coast as a flooded creek covers the highway.

Muddy Creek, near the Blue Pools, has overflowed sending earth and plants onto the highway early on Thursday morning.

Waka Kotahi's Southland Journey Manager Nicole Felts said the highway will remain closed today and overnight, with updates expected around 5pm Thursday.

"Check our traffic map before you set off and the MetService's weather warnings," Felts said. 

Surface flooding in Southland 

Felt is warning people to be cautious of surface flooding and to slow down when approaching bends in the road.

"Motorists should reduce their speed and be prepared to stop in case of wind-blown debris, downed trees or powerlines," she said.

SH96 has closed in Te Tipua south of Mataura, at the Titipua Stream Bridge.

Snow warnings and wind in Canterbury as scrub fire continues

Waka Kotahi is reminding people that Mt Cook in South Canterbury is currently not accessible from SH8 as a major scrub fire near Pūkakī Downs continues to burn.

The fire has closed the intersection of SH80 and SH8, at the base of Lake Pūkakī and SH80 was closed around 8pm Wednesday night.

Snow warnings have been issued for inland Canterbury to the Mackenzie Country with the heaviest snow amounts expected above 400 metres with a possible 100 metres this weekend.

Snow is forecast from midday Friday from the Lindis Pass north across the alpine passes to Hanmer and the eastern side of the Lewis Pass over the weekend.

Strong winds on the West Coast are battering SH73 today between Kumara Junction and Otira.

"People driving high-sided vehicles like campervans, anyone towing a caravan, boat or trailer and motorcyclists need to be aware that gusts of wind can destabilise them fast," Felt warned.

"The strong winds which fed yesterday's fires in South Canterbury are continuing today."

High avalanche risk in Milford Sound

SH94 into Milford Sound is closed today due to a high avalanche risk associated with the torrential rain.