South stranded, north isolated

Our correspondent, Barry of Tunnel Beach, reckons we got Monday’s front-page headline all wrong, and the parochial joker in some of us might wish he was right.

Atop a photograph of an angry and flooded Rangitata River, we summarised our story about wild weather closing highways on the east and west coasts as "South Stranded".

But Barry, his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek, saw things differently. Our headline, he wrote, might be better presented as "SH1 Closed: North Isolated".

His note will make many Southerners laugh even as they cope with the impact of a weather event that effectively cut the South Island in two.

As Lake Hawea rose to cover large areas of Wanaka’s low-lying streets, Westlanders were stuck behind multiple slips that made their stretch of the Coast Rd impassable.

Tourists were "stranded" in one of the most beautiful places in the world and — crucially — countless others were unable to visit and spend their money.

This part of the Coast regularly deals with weather-related calamity but it could ill-afford yet another knock after the Waiho River bridge was washed away in April.

Then, we reported the tourism-reliant region hoped for a brighter summer to recoup what was lost while the bridge lay damaged. Such work, and such hoping, begins again.

Food and consumables continue to be flown into the area,

an expensive short-term fix to provide the essentials once moved by road. People are making the same journey.

Things eased on the east coast when the Arundel bridge reopened to take the load from the still-closed Rangitata Bridge yesterday, and it will not take long for the inconvenience to pass.

However, the severance of vital road and rail links will continue to tax those with lingering concerns as to how resilient our sometimes stand-alone infrastructure is.

There are no alternative routes to the Coast Rd and the Rangitata, Waitaki and Rakaia rivers can take out all viable alternatives when they are sufficiently in flood.

Restoration plans were rapidly pursued in South Canterbury but there is a pressing need for further scoping work to understand whether anything else can be done to further insulate Westland’s roads from natural disaster.

There is no doubt the Coast’s councils and infrastructure watchdogs have well-worn response plans in place, but there remain calls to seek new cash to build new resilience.

Scenic Hotels New Zealand has already urged the Government to invest even more to improve roading and bridges to further protect what feeds the tourism market.

It is true no amount of spending will prevent slips on waterlogged hillsides but there is a need to understand what can reasonably be done to minimise the risk.

The ribbons of bitumen that serve this stretch of paradise are vital for businesses and for regional prosperity. As routes for food and emergency services, they sustain life as much as trade.

This was writ large on the east coast, where Southerners were very nearly forced to consider what they would do if the supermarket shelves were temporarily bare.

We must recognise an inescapable reliance on what comes out of Christchurch. It has many of the South Island’s most important warehouses and distribution centres, and it provides the lion’s share of the island’s international tourists.

We could (and will) joke the big wet left Christchurch cut off from the South, but it is a fact that losing these links for much longer than a few days would have made life just that much more difficult.

There was angst when Spark’s mobile and broadband network failed over the weekend: losing physical links with points further north will push the sense of disaster further out from flooded land and broken bridges.

 

Comments

Angst? Sturm und drang over phones?

Luxury.

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