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Weather: More heavy rain, flood fears in Nelson, Marlborough – Kaitaia cut off by slips

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Nelson Floods Civil Defence Update from Civil Defence Controller Alec Louverdis and Mayor Rachel Reese. Video / George Heard

Marlborough, Buller and Nelson Tasman remain in a state of emergency this morning because of severe flooding and a second dose of heavy rainfall overnight.

There had been 36mm of rain recorded at Nelson Airport since midnight, MetService meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said just after 6.30am.

“That’s still quite a lot of rain to fall … especially when the ground is already quite saturated, so any rain will just run off.”

In Takaka, 25mm of rain has fallen since midnight.

The rain would continue in the top of the south this morning before easing later this afternoon, Makgabutlane said.

Police were warning of treacherous driving conditions across Marlborough due to slips and surface flooding, and have advised Nelson–Tasman motorists to limit their travel to essential travel only.

A person was critically injured in a crash on Boundary Rd in Takaka last night, a police spokeswoman said.

The crash involving one car occurred when it left the road and collided with a tree just after 10pm. The injured person was taken to Nelson Hospital in a critical condition.

Meanwhile, this morning residents in Redwood Valley near Nelson have been asked to conserve water after an outage in the Redwood Valley rural water supply scheme, Nelson Tasman Civil Defence said on Facebook.

The water supply to the city’s water treatment plant has also been damaged and is operating at a lower capacity than normal, they wrote.

“To maintain Nelson’s drinking water, some areas of Stoke will receive water from the Richmond water supply. Changes are also being made to the water network throughout Nelson city to help reduce demand, so residents may notice a reduction in their water pressure.”

Conserving water whereever possible would help everyone on the city supply, they wrote.

In Marlborough, the Rai River had its biggest flood on record on Thursday night, and the nearby Tunakino Valley has had more than 760 millimetres of rainfall since Tuesday.

Marlborough mayor John Leggett said the main issues for his council were in the Rai River catchment and northwest into the sounds.

“When you look at State Highway 6, which is our connection with Blenheim through to Nelson, that road has taken a major, major hit and it’s going to take days to be able to clear that to be able to allow traffic through.”

The alternative route, State Highway 63, which runs alongside the Wairau River, is also closed, effectively cutting Blenheim and Nelson off from each other.

Leggett said the Marlborough region hadn’t really ‘dried out’ from major flooding in 2021, or got on top of the roading issues that resulted from it.

In Nelson, the Matai River rose swiftly again overnight and Civil Defence workers were checking all properties that were evacuated on Thursday to ensure none had been reoccupied.

Controller Rob Smith said they would need to be re-evacuated as a precaution.

The Nelson Tasman area now had 440 evacuated properties: most were in Nelson but about 10 were in Golden Bay, he said.

Anyone who felt unsafe, or who saw indications of land movement such as cracks, deformation, odd noises, or water popping up in the wrong place, should evacuate.

Almost 270mm of rain had been recorded at Nelson Airport since Tuesday, Makgabutlane, the meteorologist, said.

“When you consider the average rainfall for the month [of August] is 80mm, it’s just knocked it out of the park.”

The wet weather across the country for the last few days would continue for most today, with only eastern parts of the North Island and northern areas such as Auckland seeing an easing to showers.

“Several fronts are still affecting us today, there’ll be quite a bit of rain in western and central parts of the country.”

In Northland, State Highway 1 is also closed through the Mangamuka Gorge and State Highway 10 has been closed due to flooding in Kaeo.

Residents brace for atmospheric river’s new wave

Days of intense rain caused widespread damage across Nelson, displacing hundreds of people, while closing roads and disrupting lives in other parts of the country.

More than 400 homes were evacuated in the past few days as the deluge caused slips and flooding while the rising Maitai River kept emergency responders on high alert on Thursday.

Civil Defence controller Alec Louverdis estimated about 1200 people could be displaced from their homes and end up staying with family or friends, or at the welfare centre overnight last night.

A State of Emergency was declared in Marlborough yesterday afternoon by mayor John Leggett as the region’s Rai River had its biggest flood on record, estimated as a 60-year event.

The power of the weather that hit the Nelson region was evident in the photos that emerged — logs and trees have been strewn across State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim while flooding in Glenduan left paddocks resembling lakes.

One Nelson resident was winched from their home on Thursday night while the wild weather tore apart a Stansell Ave home, with video footage showing it lying in pieces more than 20m down a steep slope.

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

Yesterday, residents in Nelson braced for more wet weather as a MetService red weather warning was issued for the area. It was due to expire at noon today.

Forecaster for the national weather authority Gerard Bellam said an atmospheric river had been “parked up” over the country as a “very large, intense” front sat to the east of New Zealand, preventing the weather system from moving away, and bringing prolonged rain.

That weather system was expected to move off the country this afternoon, meaning some reprieve in Nelson, as well as other parts of the country that have been doused this week, including Marlborough, Taranaki and Northland.

Niwa tweeted the Maitai River in Nelson, which burst its banks earlier in the week, would rise this morning but the peak looked smaller than the past two days.

In Marlborough, more than 550mm of rain had been recorded at the Rai Falls by yesterday afternoon while 760mm-plus had fallen in Tunakino Valley since Tuesday.

Recovering from the damage caused by the wild weather is expected to take years. Photo / George Heard
Recovering from the damage caused by the wild weather is expected to take years. Photo / George Heard

The region’s mayor, John Leggett, said communities in Canvastown and Rai Valley were cut off from Marlborough and Nelson due to flooding, slips and road damage.

“Access in and out of the Marlborough Sounds is also very fragile,” he said. “These communities will need assistance and support for weeks and months to come.”

Slips and flooding closed scores of roads in Nelson while Air New Zealand cancelled all flights out of the city due to fog yesterday.

Civil Defence controller Louverdis, who was visibly upset reflecting on the damage from the wild weather to his city during a press conference yesterday, said the situation was “heartbreaking”.

He said in a 15-minute period, while he was in a meeting with the two mayors, things went from bad, to worse, to “unbelievable”.

Louverdis said the land, including steep slopes, would continue to move and slip for weeks, while Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said recovery would take years. Reese said the damage was devastating and dramatic. There were hillsides, even areas with dense bush, in Nelson that had been completely scoured out.

“We are seeing more intense rainfall events, we’re seeing hotter summers … longer droughts … we know that we have climate change on our doorstep, if not here already.”

A $200,000 mayoral recovery fund was announced earlier in the week by Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty during his visit to Nelson. The fund is also now open to donations from the public.

The wild weather damaged homes, caused slips and flooding, and closed roads in Nelson this week. Photo / George Heard
The wild weather damaged homes, caused slips and flooding, and closed roads in Nelson this week. Photo / George Heard

Tasman Mayor Tim King said all contributions from locals and those outside the region would be appreciated.

“The impact from this natural disaster has been wide-ranging. We’ve seen the obvious damage caused by flooding and landslips so far — however, once the debris is cleared, a number of people will need ongoing support to bring their lives back to normal.”

McAnulty said the damage from the storm was extensive, describing a slip he witnessed to be like “you were pouring out yoghurt out of a container, just this thick sludge carrying on down, steady as”.

He also saw a road that had been “washed out” to reveal “a crater that was deeper than I am tall”.

The wild weather also flooded roads and caused slips in Northland and left Kaitāia virtually cut off from the rest of the country. Two big slips on State Highway 1 at the Mangamuka Gorge and flooding at Kāeo and on State Highway 10/Inland Rd at Lake Ohia stopped vehicles getting to and from Kaitāia.

Residents of the hard-hit Kāeo told RNZ it was some of the worst flooding in years while a local cafe said a number of staff couldn’t make it to work. Photos showed vehicles almost submerged in floodwaters on SH10 north of Kāeo on Thursday before the highway was closed that evening.

Slips also closed roads in the Wellington region while RNZ reported that two houses were evacuated due to a slip that came down below a section in Khandallah yesterday afternoon.

Taranaki had flooding, voluntary evacuations, road closures, sewage overflows, downed trees and landslips. As the river rose yesterday, schools in Waitara sent students home.

Logs and debris strewn over State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim. Photo / Waka Kotahi
Logs and debris strewn over State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim. Photo / Waka Kotahi

By yesterday afternoon, Taranaki’s Civil Defence Emergency Co-ordination Centre (ECC) was cautiously optimistic river levels had peaked but crews would monitor the situation overnight.

The weather event behind this week’s rain has been called an “atmospheric river”, which experts have described as large and extremely high plumes of moisture that move in the atmosphere from the tropics to the mid-latitudes, where New Zealand is located.

Niwa meteorologist Tristan Meyers said when an atmospheric river hits another weather event or encounters New Zealand’s mountainous terrain, vast amounts of water vapour are squeezed out, falling as heavy rain or snow.

Meyers said analysis was needed to confirm if this event was connected to climate change.

“I’d speculate that it’s in line with what we would expect from climate change; for every degree of warming, the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere can increase by about 7 per cent.”

University of Otago senior lecturer in geography Dr Daniel Kingston said although analysis had not been performed on this specific event yet with respect to the influence of climate change, it was likely playing a role.

“Average air temperature has warmed by slightly more than 1C over the past century — and as the atmosphere warms it can hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood for extreme heavy rainfall events such as this,” Kingston said.

“Sea surface temperatures around New Zealand are also warmer than average right now, which can further amplify these sort of events.”

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