Weather: Heavy rain, flooding, triggers local states of emergency in Queenstown and Southland, residents forced to evacuate

Heavy rain and flooding in the South have forced residents to evacuate their homes, rivers to rise rapidly and sent debris across streets as authorities issue local states of emergency.   

In the early hours of Friday, Queenstown declared a local state of emergency in the district as the wild weather continued to whip parts of the South Island.   

It comes after Gore also declared a state of emergency on Thursday afternoon. This was later extended to the whole Southland region. 

Some homes have been evacuated due to the severe weather and community centres have remained open for anyone who needs assistance.   

MetService has issued several severe weather warnings and watches as an active front over the bottom of the South Island makes its feral presence known.  

Torrential rain caused significant surface flooding throughout the parts of Southland on Thursday. Several routes remained closed on Friday, 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".  

MetService's severe weather warnings and watches 

Heavy Rain Warning 

  • Tasman west of Motueka and the Bryant and northern Richmond Ranges – 12pm Friday to 12pm Saturday 
  • Westland south of Otira – 8pm Thursday to 9pm Friday  
  • Headwaters of the Canterbury lakes and rivers south of Arthur's Pass – 8pm Thursday to 10pm Friday    

Heavy Snow Warning 

  • Mackenzie Country and inland Canterbury south of the Rangitata River, also Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes north of a line from Wanaka to Ranfurly from 8am Friday - 8pm Friday  

Inland Canterbury north of the Rangitata River 4pm Friday to 6am Saturday  

Heavy Rain Watch 

  • Taranaki Maunga/Mount Taranaki from 6am Saturday – 12am Saturday   
  • The Tararua Range from 6am to 6pm Saturday   
  • Buller and Westland about and north of Otira from 12pm Friday to 6am Saturday  

Heavy Snow Watch

  • Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes about and south of a line from Wanaka to Ranfurly from 6am Friday to 6pm Friday  
Weather: Heavy rain, flooding, triggers local states of emergency in Queenstown and Southland, residents forced to evacuate
Photo credit: Facebook: QLDC / AM / Jamie Turner / Jimmy Carling

Evacuations in Southland 

A small number of homes have been evacuated on Friday afternoon in Wallacetown, west of Invercargill.

Emergency Management Southland said the Wallacetown Community Centre is open to anyone who needs assistance.

It said both community emergency hubs in Gore and Mataura have now closed. Those evacuated have been able to safely return to their homes or have found other accommodation.  

Flooding in Wallacetown.
Flooding in Wallacetown. Photo credit: Emergency Management Southland

Queenstown Lakes District - local state of emergency   

Queenstown has recorded its wettest September day on record with 71.6mm of rain, MetService said.

Queenstown District Mayor Glyn Lewers said debris flow hit the outskirts of the CDB which has caused significant damage to some properties.  

Lewers said the declaration gives police the ability to exercise powers to keep locals away from damaged areas "because there is risk of harm for people". 

"I declared an emergency at 6:33am this morning, so that enabled the police to cordon off areas and keep people away from those areas." 

Authorities stood up an evacuation centre overnight, with 41 people from one area of the district and 68 from another.  

"They had the best sleep they could possibly get in the circumstances," Lewers said. 

Speaking to AM, he said the heavy rain and flooding forced small amounts of forestry slash, rocks, mud, water and silt to move across some parts of the region.  

Lewers added the rain has eased slightly and looks to be easing more on Friday afternoon.

In an update, Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) said severe weather has caused flooding and debris flows hitting isolated parts of the town centre. including Upper Brecon and Fryer Sts, Reavers Ln and Hamilton Rd.

"The rain has now cleared and further assessments are underway."

Affected areas will be assessed by a geotechnical engineer, supported by a drone operator to get a "clearer understanding of the extent of the damage", the council said.

And a clean-up operation has already begun for Isle, Duke, Shotover and Camp Sts as well as Robins Rd, it said.

"Emergency services, Alliance, Downer and Skyline staff are all assisting."

Queenstown businesses are open unless they are inside the listed affected areas, the council added.

"The town centre is open and accessible, please take extra care and follow all safety signage and instructions in place."

Staff are working to prioritise buildings for assessment, the council said, which will happen when it's safe to do so.

"Council staff are directly contacting those who have been evacuated and will continue communication with them over the course of the day.

"There are other road closures throughout the district – these are listed on the QLDC website. A map will be available as part of the next update."  

Gore - local state of emergency   

In a recent update, Gore District Council said it had stood down its emergency response to the flooding on Friday evening.

Gore District alternate controller Jason Domigan said the community emergency hubs at Gore and Mataura had been closed. However, if people need help, they should contact Emergency Management Southland, phone 0800 768 845.

Several roads remain closed in the Gore District, including State Highway One between Gore and Mataura and State Highway 93 between Mataura and Clinton. The state highway closures were due to sandbagging across the roads as a precaution.

Traffic will be detoured through Gore, then via SH96, Waimumu Road and Charlton Road or vice versa.

"While it hasn't been as bad as 2020, there are those who have had their homes and businesses impacted. Our teams will do their best to assist them as we work through the recovery phase," Domigan said.

On Friday morning, Gore Mayor Ben Bell told AM the rain has stopped for now, giving the region's overwhelmed storm water system a break.  

"We've just been monitoring the rivers overnight as they continue to reach their peak," he said.  

As daylight breaks authorities will work to reopen roads, assess the damage and some of the areas that were flooded overnight, Bell said. 

"It's really just recovery now."  

He said Fire and Emergency New Zealand believes about 20 homes were flooded on Thursday, as well as basements and garages.  

"We'll be assessing the damage throughout the day."  

Gore too stood up a community hub, for those who self-evacuated and Bell said there were not many who had.   

Bell added the region's water is safe to drink.   

Extreme caution on Southland roads advised 

Southland Emergency Management said a considerable amount of surface flooding remains across farmland, roads and around towns - especially in Gore and on State Highways 66 and 99.

"Extreme caution is required," Southland Emergency Management said.

It said SH1 between Gore and Matarua remains closed, with a new detour in place via SH96, Waimumu Rd and Charlton Rd.

SH93, also known as Old Catch Road, will be closed to all traffic from 4pm Friday. Gore District Council staff will be laying sandbags across the road, just north of Mataura at the flood banks, as a precaution given the predicted peak of the Mataura River on Friday night. The river is expected to reach 4.1 metres above normal levels. All traffic will be detoured through Gore.

Flooding and slips have also forced the closure of SH6 between Jollies Hill and Kingston, and Southland Emergency Management is urging people to "avoid travelling the area".

SH99 from Wallacetown to the intersection at Lorneville with SH6 is also closed due to flood waters.

Flood warnings and high river watches continue to be in place across regions and, while river levels are high, officials said most have peaked. However, some peaks are still to come in the lower catchments on Friday afternoon and Saturday.

"The Mataura River at Gore and Mataura township is yet to peak, but is expected to be within the design capacity of the stop banks."

Emergency Management Southland added welfare centres are still open at the Croydon Lodge Gore and at the Mataura community centre for people who need support. The centre at Otautau is closed.

The water treatment plant at Tuatapere stopped working on Thursday night due to floodwaters and is now running on a generator.

"Water tankers arrived in the township this morning. Residents are advised to continue conserving water."

Emergency Management Southland group controller Simon Mapp said though the weather had eased there were considerable hazards in places and urged people to avoid flood waters and travelling on affected roads.

"People need to avoid travelling on roads that are closed or obviously flooded to avoid getting stuck. Extreme caution is essential," Mapp said.

"People should also avoid contact with flood waters as they could be contaminated with sewage or other waste."

'The Government is on stand by'

On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it has been a "tough night" for many Kiwis in the lower South Island and encouraged them to continue to follow the advice of local emergency management teams.

"The Government is on standby to provide whatever support is required. Often it's not until the weather band has passed that we get to understand exactly what support will be required, if any."

Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said he is evaluating the situation to see whether he will visit Queenstown at the weekend.

McAnulty told media he's pleased with the local response so far, adding the Government is "ready to help if it's required".

He said Gore Mayor Ben Bell had provided him with an update saying the region is preparing for the worst – but there are hopes the worst has passed.

"The feedback that I've had through NIMA is that their preparations are very good and so too is their communication." 

Watch the video above for more.   

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