Flooding in West Coast town worst in 50 years - fire chief

Hari Hari during a cloud burst yesterday -- the town got about 30mm of rain in one hour, mid...
Hari Hari during a cloud burst yesterday -- the town got about 30mm of rain in one hour, mid-afternoon. Photo: Fiona McConnochie
South Westland towns, isolated at the height of the storm last night, rallied to accommodate stranded tourists and evacuees as Hari Hari bore the brunt of the slow-moving front.

The fire chief said it was the worst surface flooding he had seen in 50 years.

Roads began reopening today, including State Highway 6 which fully reopened by 6pm.

While the tail of the storm packed a punch, it was not as bad as feared, apart from in Hari Hari.

A cloudburst mid-afternoon dumped about 30mm of rain in the space of one hour, while strong winds threw outdoor furniture around.

Hari Hari resident Karyn Mathieson was at home just after 3pm, on the north side of the township when she heard the hillside start to move.

She evacuated, and found slips on either side of her home. She returned home after the rain eased.

Today, she said she initially thought there had been a tornado, as the damage was in a line — her flagpole was damaged, decking furniture blown around and a chair smashed into her shed bifold doors.

"I got home at 3.25pm and it just turned torrential rain, wind, it was crazy. My husband rang and I said, 'I can hear movement'," she said, referring to the slip.

Hari Hari chief fire officer John McIntosh the surface flooding was the worst in half a century, as the town was hammered from 2.45pm to 5pm.

A two-hour lull followed that saw river levels drop, which was a "blessing".

Some families living close to the Wanganui River self-evacuated and spent the night at a hotel.

"Others we tried to get them to evacuate, some were reluctant," Mr McIntosh said.

Judy Cardno said a couple of people were put up at the hotel and motel overnight.

South Westland Area School was closed today.

South of Haast, there is now 1km of missing power-lines on the beachfront heading to Neils Beach and Jackson Bay, after the first poles were lost a few days ago.

Fewer than 20 people are affected.

"Yesterday the sea eroded heaps more and snavelled another five poles. We have lost about a kilometre of power-line now," NZ Energy director David Inch said.

"We have more linesmen arriving today."

They located six poles 3km south in the Waiatoto lagoon, which they need to fish out and re-erect.

Linesmen were currently putting in what poles they did have.

Power is not expected to be restored until tomorrow night or Sunday, if there are favourable weather and sea conditions.

Westpower general manager network Mark Blandford said Cobden had a short outage yesterday due to a broken connector cable, probably from the wind, affecting 136 customers for about 30 minutes.

A slip damaged the 11kV line at Ross causing an outage to 200 customers for 90 minutes.

Despite the wild weather at Hari Hari, it was a car hitting a power-pole which caused an outage there to seven customers for two hours.

Smithy's Creek at Fox Hills today. The road will be closed until at Monday at the earliest. Photo...
Smithy's Creek at Fox Hills today. The road will be closed until at Monday at the earliest. Photo: NZTA
The Westland District Council said damage to local roads was being assessed today.

"Currently Jackson Bay Road remains closed. Clearwater bridge on Gillespies Beach Road was saved due to the placement of rocks by contractors, Allan Road at Waitaha has suffered some damage but is passable. Kokatahi Road has reopened," a spokeswoman said.

In many towns, fierce winds carried on until after dark, with the large concrete blocks at Ag Fest proving their worth in holding down the marquees.

Peter Ewen at Rapahoe recorded one wind gust of 94kph; gale force is over 65kph.

The Metservice said Hokitika recorded a gust of 87kph, Westport 78kph and the more exposed Cape Foulwind 98kph.

The Waiho (Waiau) River at Franz Josef peaked at 8.6m, over its second stage alarm level of 8.5m, at 6.20pm yesterday.

This morning it was still at the first stage alarm at just over 8m but dropping.

The Metservice said Franz Josef township has had 253mm of rain since Tuesday.

In the seven hours to 7am today, Whataroa had 194.5mm. Hari Hari, with the new rain recorder at South Westland Area School now on-line, got 189mm to 7am today.

Rainfall amounts lessened heading north — Ross 96mm, Hokitika 44mm, Greymouth 31mm, Reefton 57mm and Westport 29.4mm.

At the far end of the region, Haast had 170mm to 7am today.