Deluge causes slips, flooding, road closures and evacuations in North Island
Flooding and slips have closed state highways and roads across the central North Island from Hawke's Bay to Whanganui, New Plymouth and Wairarapa, with some evacuations near Napier.
Police have been turning cars away on the road to Eskdale. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley
More than 322mm of rain has already fallen in the Hawke's Bay town of Glengarry.
NZTA regional transport manager Ross I'Anson said the Napier-Taupō Road was closed and could be some days before it was cleared.
"We just don't know at this stage."
A detour route was in place via Palmerston North on State Highways 1 and 2, which would add four to five hours to the journey.
Road to Eskdale closed due to flooding pic.twitter.com/Nkjke69WLM— Anusha Bradley (@AnushaBradley) March 7, 2018
In the Manawatū-Whanganui region, State Highway 43 between Whangamomona and Taumarunui was closed due to slips, Mr I'Anson said.
"Some of those slips are quite large and that road will be closed for some time. Obviously as we clear one slip, we have to move to the next so we don't know how many slips we have or how big they are."
State Highway 45 between New Plymouth and Ōmata was closed due to fallen trees, which brought down powerlines, but it was hoped to reopen it this afternoon.
In Wairarapa, Castlepoint was cut off due to slips on the Masterton-Castlepoint Road, and the Whangaehu Valley Road was blocked by fallen trees.
A Hawke's Bay Regional Council spokesperson said 218 properties in the riverside settlement of Eskdale were put on notice to prepare to evacuate this morning and some did.
He said the council was monitoring the situation but the river has already dropped by half a metre.
RNZ reporter Anusha Bradley was at Eskdale Holiday Park and said about 30 caravans had been evacuated from the area.
She said floodwaters had receded about 1.30pm, and people were now returning to the campground, which was still covered in mud and silt.
She said the watermark at the peak of the flooding was about hip-high, and the toilet blocks had been flooded.
Steve Wheeler's property alongside the Esk River was quickly flooded by the heavy rain.
"It was almost as if the thunderstorm had basically parked itself over the top of the Esk Valley and just let rip.
"So by 11am the water had come right up, much higher.
"So yeah, it covered the paddocks and it started to head up to one of the neighbours houses - it was right up to her back doorstep", he said.
Students from Havelock North Intermediate were also evacuated from their school camp in Rissington because of heavy rain.
Principal Julia Beaumont said more than 60 students were affected.
"They were sleeping in tents, everything was good, until about midnight when the rain really picked up.
"So this morning, the teachers just decided with the worsening weather, it was time to come home", she said.
At Pipiriki, 79km upriver from Whanganui, river levels have risen to more than 11 metres - eight metres higher than normal.
Council spokesperson Ramon Strong said the Whanganui River was expected to peak at 7.9 metres at about 5pm.
"We're monitoring it at the moment, and it's likely we'll install an inflatable barrier this morning if required. We're taking a precautionary approach but it's not going to be a major flood event."
The Manawatū and Rangitikei Rivers were also running high.
"This may cause some delays to the works under way at Ashhurst Domain but we do not expect it to cause any significant damage to the site. The erosion works behind Victoria Esplanade have been secured and the contractors working on the He Ara Kotahi Bridge have implemented their flood contingency plan.
"The Manawatū River is expected to peak at 4.2m at Teachers' College this evening and may result in a road closure at Opiki, SH56 this evening. At this stage there is no further significant rainfall forecasted so we don't expect any other issues."
The flood waters have hit vineyards in the Esk Valley just north of Napier, with several areas of grapes were flooded this morning to a depth of about 20 centimetres.
Angela Ranson from Linden Estate winery said there could be a problem for this year's output.
"If we get too much more water the grapes will probably split and then there is the possibility of losing the crop," she said.
"The winemaker is not too bothered at the moment because some of the crops with high acid should be OK, but some of the crops might suffer.
"Some of the whites will probably be okay because they have got a bit more acid but the Syrah might not cope so well.
"However all that remains to be seen."
Members of the public are advised to take care while driving and check the AA's website for information on road conditions.
Up-to-date information on river heights and rainfall is available via Horizons 24 hour toll-free Waterline 0508 4 FLOOD or horizons.govt.nz
Updates will also be posted to the Manawatū-Whanganui Civil Defence Facebook page.