Students rescued; weather bomb hits hard

A group of high school students trapped by rising floodwaters in a remote mountain hut overnight have made it out safely.

The Otago Boys’ High School students were trapped in Mt Aspiring National Park after heavy rain rendered a creek impassable.

A school spokeswoman said they received word at 11.30am all the boys were loading the bus and were on their way home.

She said it was a “relief” knowing they were all fine and well.

Deputy rector Mark Hooper said last night the group of about 25 year 9 pupils were scheduled to return Thursday but the creek rose rapidly and became too high to cross.

All parents had been informed and there was ample food in the hut in the Matukituki Valley, he said. This morning they had a good, hot breakfast while they waited for the creek to drop.

Earlier today the body of Rejoice Steadfast, a mother of 11 from the Gloriavale community, was recovered from the swollen Haupiri River near Gloriavale in the Grey District, West Coast.

A source told the Herald Steadfast had been watching the flooded river with family members when the bank gave way and she fell in the water.

Steadfast is the daughter-in-law of Gloriavale secretary and treasurer Fervent Steadfast.

Police this morning said a Search and Rescue team had recovered her body at 8am.

Her death has been referred to the coroner.

Elsewhere on the West Coast a bridge has collapsed and dozens of students are trapped as a wicked storm continues to pelt the region with heavy rain.

Parts of the West Coast received over half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours, with more rain and even snow on the way in the South Island.

This was more rain than Christchurch receives in a year, 88 per cent of Dunedin’s annual rainfall and 58 per cent of Auckland’s.

Civil Defence remains on alert today following the storm.

The headwaters of the Hokitika, Wahio and Haast rivers are receding after parts of the ranges received more than half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours, but many roads have closed overnight.

Westland District Council Mayor Bruce Smith said the weather had settled down a bit this morning, with light rain and receding rivers.

Hokitika River peaked at about 1am at the second highest level in 50 years, Smith said.

“Up at Hokitika gorge it was frightening, there was a lot of water coming through. It would be the second worst flood in 50 years.

“We were concerned about the flood wall at Hokitika [town] but it held tight.”

The biggest problem was the Goat Creek Bridge east of Otira, which had been completely eaten away by the swollen Otira River.

“The bank has washed out and the bridge is twisted, it looks pretty serious.”

State Highway 73 between Jacksons and Springfield was closed for the weekend. SH6 from Hokitika to Fox Glacier was also closed, as well as several local roads due to surface flooding.

Smith said contractors were already getting stuck into clearing slips along the West Coast roads but Goat Creek Bridge would likely take much longer.

Smith said despite the bad weather the community was in good spirits.

“It has been a year of storms, but the community has been great.

“Yesterday I was in Hokitika and it was pouring with rain, tourists were stranded due to the roads, so I said to them, ‘Head to the pub, grab a feed and sit in front of the fire, and enjoy yourself’. I had no complaints.”

As it was shoulder tourist season there were no issues with accommodation, Smith said.

It also meant a good day for West Coast hospitality, with stranded visitors providing constant business.

A spokesperson from Stumpers Bar, Cafe and Accommodation in Hokitika says they were fully booked last night, with most people staying on tonight.

A severe weather warning remained in place for parts of south and central New Zealand today as a front moved across the South Island, reaching the lower North Island this morning.

MetService meteorologist Nick Zachar said some weather stations on the West Coast had recorded over half a metre of rain in the past 24 hours.

Ivory Glacier on the West Coast topped the charts at 550mm, while many other areas in the ranges received similar amounts. That is more rain than Auckland has had in the past four months.

While the weather was on an easing trend there was still plenty to come.

“We are still seeing quite a bit of rain about Hokitika and south of there, some stations on the West Coast have had 40mm an hour, and heavy snow is starting to fall in the Canterbury high country. Mt Cook Village is starting to see some decent snowfall,” Zachar said.”

“This is all adding to river levels and increasing the risk of flooding and slips.”

Road snow warnings were in place for many South Island alpine passes this morning. Arthur’s Pass (SH73) could see as much as 12cm of snow, Porters Pass (SH73) 15cm, Lindis Pass (SH8) 8cm and the Crown Range Rd a light dusting.



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