State of emergency still in place

The State Highway 6 bridge over the Waiho River. Photo: Wayne Costello/Doc
The State Highway 6 bridge over the Waiho River. Photo: Wayne Costello/Doc
South Westland is still mopping up after this week's once-in-a-century storm, and a state of emergency remained in place yesterday.

A replacement Bailey bridge was expected to start its trip to Franz Josef via Otago - but a timeline was not available.

Haast was still without power and there are concerns about the tourism industry, compounded by damage to both glacier access roads.

During this week's flood, the access road at nearby Franz Josef sustained significant damage. With steep valley sides, there appears nowhere obvious to put a replacement road. For now, the only way on to the ice is by helicopter or plane.

The bridge that was swept away should be repaired in 7-10 days, leaving the headache of how to get tourists up the glacier access roads.

The retreating glaciers are leaving unstable valley walls at Franz and Fox.

Dr Caroline Orchiston, deputy director at the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago, said the Franz Josef area was a highly dynamic, hazard-prone environment.

"As the glacier retreats, more material (sediment, rock) is coming down the valley and so the river has been aggrading (or raising the river bed) downstream and beneath the Waiho bridge.

"Flood protection structures in the area have protected the township from floods in the past. The river in high flow presents a very significant risk to downstream communities.

"NZTA has been working to a schedule of bridge and highway improvements on the West Coast to increase the resilience of the network in recent years.

"The highly dynamic natural environment of the West Coast means that there will be disruptions to the network, and the recovery of the network will rely on how quickly temporary bridges can be put in place."

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