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Wild weather: Heavy rain in Nelson causes devastating damage; mayor expects recovery to take years

Nelson resident Paul Maskell spoke from Devenish Place, where flooding has destroyed the road. Video / George Heard Communities near Nelson are...

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Nelson resident Paul Maskell spoke from Devenish Place, where flooding has destroyed the road.
Video / George Heard

Communities near Nelson are being evacuated for a second night as the “devastating” wild weather continues to lash the top of the South Island.

Civil Defence Nelson Tasman spokesman Chris Choat said all residents on Airlie St in Glenduan, north of Nelson, are being evacuated.

Choat said this was a precautionary measure and authorities preferred to evacuate them now rather than at 2am when high tide was expected.

A Herald photographer in Nelson said army Unimog trucks were being used to ferry evacuated residents to safer parts of the city and region.

Flooding in central Nelson. Photo / George Heard
Flooding in central Nelson. Photo / George Heard

Mayor Rachel Reese said the significance of this event on the city “couldn’t be overstated”.

“The span of this is massive and it’s really complex, it’s going to take Nelson years to recover from this.”

She also said that although the high tide at 2am is worrying, it’s the slips that officials are more worried about at this stage.

“The Maitai River is still rising but at the same pace as yesterday, it’s the slips we are more concerned with at this stage, the hill is literally still moving as we speak.”

The Maitai River, which runs through Nelson city, has already burst its banks and floodwater has flowed onto nearby roads and properties.

“The river level is comparative to yesterday for sure, and we are monitoring it closely. We can’t say with certainty that it is going to be higher than yesterday’s level,” Choat said.

NZ Defence Force personnel are in Nelson to help people evacuate. Photo / NZDF
NZ Defence Force personnel are in Nelson to help people evacuate. Photo / NZDF

Kerry McNamara, a fire station officer in Nelson, rescued an elderly lady from her residence this evening. He said it was a “very dangerous rescue”

Just getting to the house was “sketchy”, McNamara said, and rescuers utilised the help of Land Search & Rescue New Zealand in order to access the property.

After locating the woman, it was impossible to get her out the way they came in, McNamara explained. With the help of the police, they found a safe route from the main road to get her to safety.

“It was probably one of the most spectacular rescues I have been a part of.”

The elderly lady was taken to hospital by police following the rescue, officers said she was stable and coherent but in shock.

Glenduan from the air. Photo / Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter
Glenduan from the air. Photo / Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter

Residents around Nelson will wake to the aftermath of the “devastating” wild weather that forced hundreds of people from their homes and will take years to recover from.

Heavy rain caused havoc across the country, virtually cutting off the north from the rest of the country, submerging other routes and sinking a boat in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour after it broke its mooring and smashed against a rocky sea wall.

In Nelson, intense rain caused significant damage across the city, washing out roads, flooding homes and prompting landslides.

Hundreds of homes were evacuated as emergency response crews moved in to assess how badly damaged the properties were.

Civil Defence controller Alec Louverdis said he was hopeful the assessments could be completed Friday and was “praying” most people would be able to return to their homes.

Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty travelled to Nelson on Thursday and said the damage was extensive.

“We were literally watching a hill just flow on down, it was like you were pouring out yoghurt out of a container, just this thick sludge carrying on down, steady as.

“And also a relatively new development, where the middle of the road had just been washed out, a crater that was deeper than I am tall.”

A resident of Nile St  in Nelson checks their property that backs on to the Maitai River. Photo / Tim Cuff
A resident of Nile St in Nelson checks their property that backs on to the Maitai River. Photo / Tim Cuff

Most of the rivers on the West Coast were starting to drop by Thursday afternoon, McAnulty said.

Experts say an “atmospheric river” is behind the week’s heavy rain and is likely connected to climate change.

University of Otago senior lecturer in geography Dr Daniel Kingston said earlier in the week the weather event could be more damaging because it comes on top of an already exceptionally wet winter.

Kingston said although this specific weather event had not been analysed regarding the influence of climate change, it was “more than likely playing a role”.

A state of emergency was declared in the Tasman region after widespread flooding hit Nelson. Photo / George Heard
A state of emergency was declared in the Tasman region after widespread flooding hit Nelson. Photo / George Heard

Niwa meteorologist Tristan Meyers said it was being investigated whether or not atmospheric rivers were increasing for New Zealand but, “I’d speculate that it’s in line with what we would expect from climate change”.

MetService said there was expected to be some reprieve in the heavy rain for the upper South Island before it returned this afternoon through to Friday morning.

The national weather authority had issued warnings for either heavy rain and strong winds for much of the northern and western parts of the country, including red warnings for Buller, Westland and Nelson, but these were due to expire Thursday night.

McAnulty said on Thursday the initial concern was that the wild weather was headed toward Golden Bay, however it changed quickly and hit mainly Nelson.

In Nelson, 308 homes had to be evacuated today, including 10 due to a landslide and the rest due to flooding. McAnulty said roughly 20 per cent of the 104 properties assessed today had been yellow or red-stickered.

“It’s clear that there is going to be a long-term impact to the residents of this city.”

Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty providing an update to media on the damage caused by the wild weather. Photo / George Heard
Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty providing an update to media on the damage caused by the wild weather. Photo / George Heard

A $200,000 mayoral relief fund has been established to help communities in the Nelson and Tasman area.

“There are people that have been displaced from their homes, there is damage to property, there is damage to many areas of this city that this relief fund can assist with,” McAnulty said.

Reese, the Nelson mayor, said the damage from the wild weather was devastating and it would take years for the city to recover.

“It’s going to be a long haul; I think we needed to prepare ourselves for that now … We have got damage throughout the city and … we’ve got damage to people’s homes and homes that are likely to be uninhabitable and that is going to be a challenging scenario for many families.

“[The] recovery, in my view … it’s not going to be over a matter of months, it’s going to be over years.”

Reese said she was concerned about the degree of instability in the hillsides and there was the potential for more slips, flooding and evacuations.

She said the degree of increase in the flow of the Maitai River today was something she had never seen before.

“It really did build very quickly … the velocity of water that has moved from some of these spaces is just incredible.”

Thursday's storm pushed a yacht onto rocks at Tāmaki Drive, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig
Thursday’s storm pushed a yacht onto rocks at Tāmaki Drive, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig

Meanwhile, parts of the Far North were all but cut off today after slips in the Mangamuka Gorge blocked State Highway 1, and flooding made the alternative SH10 impassable at Kāeo.

An elderly Kaitāia woman was rescued from her property by an inflatable surf rescue boat earlier today when floodwaters cut her off. Ahipara Surf Rescue Club captain Tony Walker said crew members were called to Kaitāia south after the 75-year-old was trapped in her home by rising floodwaters.

In Auckland, wild winds and heavy rain pummelled the city, ripping a yacht from its mooring. It sank after smashing on rocks in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour.

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