Bridge expected to open in 'a day or two'

A section of the Wanganui River bridge, near Harihari, on the West Coast, which was swept away by...
A section of the Wanganui River bridge, near Harihari, on the West Coast, which was swept away by floodwaters. Photo from Hokitika Guardian.
It could be a very long "day or two" before the Wanganui Bridge just north of Harihari is reopened after floodwaters washed away the approach yesterday morning, severing all transport and communications to South Westland.

New Zealand Transport Agency area manager Mark Pinner said today that contractors had begun work on diverting the river by dumping rocks, which should enable contractors to start repairs.

To make matters worse, about noon yesterday the only fibre optic cable to the area, which ran alongside the bridge, was cut, leaving as many as 1000 homes unable to communicate with the outside world via internet or phone.

"We hope to have the bridge open, to at least one lane, in a day or two but we need to see how much damage has been done first."

Mr Pinner said that about 10m of the abutment leading onto the bridge had been washed away.

"As well, we need to see what damage as occurred to the piece of road that is still there. We don't know how undermined it is," he said.

Mr Pinner said that depending on the damage, another option was to put a temporary Bailey bridge in place.

The Bailey bridge would have to be delivered to the area from Christchurch and Mr Pinner said if that was the best option, the road would be closed for longer.

"The main part of the Wanganui Bridge is okay, but the first span after the abutment may also be damaged and if it is undermined things could be a lot more serious," Mr Pinner said.

Police at the scene of the washout were annoyed by the behaviour of some tourists who risked their lives as they attempted to get a closer look at the damage. Ross police constable Jason Martin said that when he arrived at the scene people, including some locals, were standing on the edge of the bridge.

Westland District Council civil defence co-ordinator John Bainbridge said this morning that yesterday there was some concern about people being stranded in Harihari, but the local community took care of that using its Civil Defence plan.

"Most people managed to head back towards Wanaka once the Fox Hills opened."

He also said a couple of busloads of tourists who spent the night at Fox Glacier were heading back to Wanaka today.

Ross motelier Kay Horne said that they had been "very busy."

"While some people who had booked with us never made it, others who were stranded in Ross filled the beds."

She said that it was disappointing many people's travel plans had been affected by the bad weather.

"The rain down here was torrential - it was relentless, but luckily in Ross we haven't been affected too badly."

- by Viv Logie of the Greymouth Star

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