600 tourists stranded in Haast

The storm has caused big slips on the West Coast. Photo: NZ Herald
The storm has caused big slips on the West Coast. Photo: NZ Herald

Six hundred tourists, some with medical issues, are stranded in Haast, blocked by a huge slip.

Westland District Council has activated a Level 3 Emergency Operations Centre in response to yesterday's severe weather caused by  ex-Tropical Cyclone Fehi throughout the district and for many parts of New Zealand.

Heavy rain for the West Coast and central parts of the North Island eased this morning, as had severe gales for much of the country.

One of the tourists had a minor medical condition and was helicoptered out, a Westland District Council spokesperson said this morning.

"Another stranded motorist was a doctor, and they assisted them. The person had a minor medical condition, that could have got worse, so we got them out of there."

A helicopter crew is assessing roads in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and bringing in ground crew to assess how to safely get stranded tourists out today. WDC said this was being conducted by police.

"Getting the stranded people out of the area is the first priority; the vehicles will be recovered at a later point in time," a WDC spokesperson said.

"Challenges with this include slips, fallen trees and, of greatest concern, live power lines down which need to be isolated before the road can be cleared.

"We are aware of a few medical issues and these are being handled as a matter of urgency under the supervision of New Zealand Police."

There is a 100m-long slip, 9 metres high, at Douglas Bluff south of Haast.

WDC estimates at least 600 tourists to be in Haast.

"We are undertaking a welfare assessment of their needs. The road and slip is being managed by New Zealand Transport Agency and their contractors."

Franz Josef has no landline or cell coverage.

Waves lap over State Highway 6 at Punakaiki. Photo: Martijn van der Maarel via NZ Herald
Waves lap over State Highway 6 at Punakaiki. Photo: Martijn van der Maarel via NZ Herald

Power was restored to most of Hokitika yesterday evening although there were still about 900 consumers without power, mostly in South Westland, Hokitika, and areas in the north towards Inangahua, a Transpower spokesperson said.

Specialist crews are travelling by helicopter to conduct an assessment and begin making repairs to the transmission assets.

Some 115 tourists spent an uncomfortable night in their cars after becoming stranded between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. They include about 20 young people aboard a Kiwi Experience bus.

Damage from ex-Tropical Cyclone Fehi blocked off parts of State Highway 6 yesterday, including between Ross and Makarora, which covers Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.

Buller Civil Defence said this morning the high tide in the early hours had not resulted in another major storm surge and people who had to leave their homes had found places to stay for the night.

"All those who had to leave their homes are safe in motels or with friends and family."

Fire and Emergency said it had a relatively quiet night overnight with few weather-related call outs.

In response to the state of emergency Spark has opened up its WiFi network to everyone across the South Island.

"Anyone who needs to (whether you're a customer or not) is welcome to use free Spark WiFi to stay in touch with friends and family."

Franz Josef and Fox Glacier water and sanitation is under review.

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