Flooding from ex-Cyclone Ita Closes Highways in New Zealand

As predicted in an earlier report, the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Ita reached New Zealand late last week bringing flooding and landslides in its wake.

Fortunately, as with its duration in Australia, no fatalities were reported. The heavy rain caught up with Prince William and wife Katherine as they bid New Zealand farewell with Prince George in tow, leaving for Australia on the second leg of their tour.

Over 22,000 customers were left without power in Auckland on North Island on Thursday night, with flights in and out of Auckland Airport cancelled owing to severe weather and several roads were closed by flooding. The worst-hit areas were the northern and northeastern parts of Auckland, including Kiapara and Helensville.

Firefighters around the Bay of Plenty had to deal with two rounds of thunderstorms early Friday morning, Fire Service northern communications shift manager Scott Osmond reported. “A couple of hours between about 6 and 8am, there was a thunderstorm which went through Mt Maunganui, Tauranga, Te Puke, Papamoa. We had 28 jobs for weather-related events, mainly flooding,” he said.

On Monday 21 April a New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesperson said that State Highway 36 (SH36) between Tauranga and Rotorua should reopen to one lane of traffic on Tuesday afternoon, after a slip closed the road on Thursday. About 300mm (24”) of rain fell in the area between Thursday and Sunday which “challenged the slip clean-up progress”, she said.

The SH 53 between Featherston and Martinborough was also closed due to flooding at the Waihenga River bridge.

NZTA said that signs would be posted to advise motorists of closures and the detours in place and, for the latest information about road closures, motorists were advised to call 0800 4 HIGHWAYS or visit www.nzta.govt.nz.

A spokeswoman for a power utility reported that all consumers in Auckland who had lost power due to the storms had been reconnected by Friday morning. About 500 homes on the West Coast of South Island were reported to be still without power.

On South Island, 65mm (2.6”) of rain were recorded in Christchurch on Friday 18th April from overnight showers, and 180mm (7”) at Akaroa. The Heathcote River burst its banks, reaching about 2m (6ft) above normal levels at 1pm on Friday.

According to a Christchurch Council spokesperson on Saturday, there had been isolated flooding across the city, and council workers were working to clear drains to assist with the situation.

Slips had closed the road to Christchurch’s Lyttelton Tunnel, with contractors working to make the slip on Canterbury Street safe. Engineers were also checking the Port Hills for small localised slips, and monitoring areas known to be at risk of “mass movement,” the council said.

The Christchurch Council has warned that it is possible that flood-waters on roads and parks may be contaminated and requests residents to avoid the water where possible or make sure they wash their hands and remove and wash all wet clothing.

SH 75 Christchurch Akaroa Rd was reported by NZTA to be closed on Friday between Little River and Barrys Bay due to flooding.

The Kakanui River burst its banks on Friday, forcing closure of the State Highway 1 (SH1) at Maheno, southwest of Oamaru on South Island, and resulting in long queues of traffic building up on either side of the closure.

Four relief centres accommodating up to 400 people had been set up Friday night when it was clear that there would be no way through for vehicles overnight, according to Waitaki District Council emergency services manager Chris Raine.

In a dramatic rescue, a woman escaped from her flooded car late on Friday morning after it had been swept away by floodwaters from the Kakanui River at the Five Forks bridge. A four-wheel-drive tractor was unsuccessful in trying to reach her, but after two hours of huddling on the roof of her car, she was rescued by a 14-ton digger-loader that managed to get to her. As she was helped into the bucket by an Oamaru policeman, a rescue helicopter arrived as back-up, but was not needed.

The woman was treated for hypothermia on the scene and taken to Oamaru Hospital where she was also treated and then discharged.

The deep low from ex-Cyclone Ita, which sat west of New Zealand on Friday, was expected to weaken and move across the lower South Island Saturday night, and Otaga flood managers advised that many rivers in the region were likely to stay high for the next few days.

Although a large anticyclone in the North Tasman Sea would gradually extend across the country, showery rain was still expected ahead of it in places especially on the western coasts. The high would move over most of the country on Wednesday followed by another front in from the west later on Wednesday into Thursday, MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said, adding that this front could bring some heavy rain across parts of the west coast of South Island.

Sources: NZ Herald; Christchurch Government; IB Times; The Australian