Waitati haven for stranded

At least 220 people cram into the Waitati Hall, north of Dunedin, last night after motorists...
At least 220 people cram into the Waitati Hall, north of Dunedin, last night after motorists caught in yesterday's wintry blast were unable to reach Dunedin or travel north. Photo by Lynnaire Johnston.
About 220 stranded motorists, including families with young children, were sheltering in the Waitati Hall, north of Dunedin, last night, as a bitterly cold winter blast closed roads across Otago and Southland.

Forecasters warned the bad weather was expected to continue today, as cold southerlies were set to bring more snow to the lower South Island, before easing this afternoon.

Waitati Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Jeff Burrow said at least 220 people were stranded at the Waitati Hall after snow closed Dunedin's Northern Motorway and the Kilmog hill yesterday.

Sam Broadmore (left) and Josh Richardson improvise and slide on  a car carry pod on London St, in...
Sam Broadmore (left) and Josh Richardson improvise and slide on a car carry pod on London St, in Dunedin. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
While those lucky motorists were able to reach the hall, more had to be rescued by contractors after becoming stranded in their cars on the side of State Highway 1 into Dunedin last night, he said.

Those motorists were expected to join the crowd at the hall.

Waitati residents had "rallied around", offering hot soup and other food, blankets and comfort to motorists at the hall, he said.

Others planned to bed down at the town's fire station, the nearby Maori education centre, Te Whare Arohanui, or the Blueskin Bay Library. Some residents were considering opening their homes to strangers.

Dunedin woman Delwyn Pauling (41) drags luggage through the snow on Riselaw Rd to her home in...
Dunedin woman Delwyn Pauling (41) drags luggage through the snow on Riselaw Rd to her home in Mariner St, after her airport shuttle driver baulked at tackling the street yesterday afternoon. Photo by Jane Dawber.
There were no reports of serious accidents, but some cars had slid off the road and at least one looked "pretty second-hand", he said.

Mr Burrow said he was "just stoked" at the community's response, including one resident "seen wheeling a television down the street in a wheelbarrow so they could play some DVDs for the kids".

"It's really good to see."

Most of the motorists also seemed to be in good spirits, despite their predicament, he said.

"There's some people who, of course, aren't handling it too well, but unfortunately there's not much we can do. It's weather," Mr Burrow said.

Traffic trouble on Castlewood Rd. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Traffic trouble on Castlewood Rd. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Attempts were being made late last night to clear the road to allow motorists over the Northern Motorway into Dunedin.

Elsewhere, the wintry weather brought snow to coastal areas and closed roads around Otago and Southland. Ice, rather than snow, proved the biggest challenge for dozens of motorists whose cars slid off treacherous roads.

The weather was accompanied by warnings for motorists to listen to the radio for condition updates, restrict their movements to essential travel only and for farmers to get stock to shelter.

Queenstown was one of the hardest-hit areas. The temperature was below zero for most of the day and had dropped to minus 1.7degC about 3pm. MetService reported that, with the wind chill, it felt like minus 9degC.

Cars were backed up on several roads as motorists lost control on ice and snow.

Police reported about 20 vehicles had slid off the road between Queenstown and Kingston.

The temperature was near zero for much of Otago and Southland for most of the day.

Snow and sleet were reported in Balclutha, Alexandra, Wanaka, Oamaru and Dunedin.

"Blizzard-like" conditions prevailed at times in Queenstown.

Motorists were warned to restrict their movements to essential travel only and to carry chains on all Central Otago roads.

A thick blanket of snow covered Te Anau.

Dunedin airport was closed about 5pm and Queenstown Airport earlier in the day. All flights in and out were cancelled, diverted or delayed.

Police asked motorists to slow down and drive to the conditions in Otago and Southland.

Central Otago police sub-area supervisor, Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, said ice underneath the snow was the problem.

A spokesman said it was fortunate that while there had been many nose-to-tail crashes and cars off roads, there were no serious injury crashes.

However, Dunedin Senior Sergeant Steve Aitken said there were a few "idiots" in Dunedin who were driving around irresponsibly in snow and ice and putting other people and the emergency services at risk.

"Those people really need to grow up and think what they are doing." As well as the closure of the Northern Motorway and Kilmog, a snow shower in Dunedin about noon resulted in gridlock on the Southern Motorway for several hours, as some motorists slid to a halt, blocking the paths of others.

The issue of some drivers stopping in the middle of streets caused similar problems across central city streets.

Snow also caused disruption in the hill suburbs. Highcliff Rd and Three Mile Hill were closed because of snow and Castlewood and Camp Rds closed after about 20 cars got stranded on ice, Snr Sgt Steve Aitken said.

Land Rover and 4WD clubs were assisting police to rescue stranded people and take essential service workers, such as nurses, to and from work last night.

The freezing conditions caused havoc on other southern roads and many were closed or passable only with chains.

While there was snow in the surrounding hills, low-level parts of North Otago escaped the snow until about 3pm, when it started falling at sea level.

WeatherWatch.co.nz head analyst Philip Duncan told NZPA much of Southland and Otago was below or near zero for much of the day as air straight off the Antarctic moved over the lower South Island.

"This isn't the snow storm of the century ... but what makes this system different from previous cold blasts is the low snow level, which is at sea level across much of southern and eastern South Island," Mr Duncan said.

Snow and strong southerlies were expected for most of the South Island until tonight, the MetService said.





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