A pub owner is among dozens in Otira and Arthur's Pass who could be cut off until Saturday by landslides brought down by foul weather.
Key highways in the South Island were shut today as heavy rain and fierce winds swept through. The Lewis Pass to Picton has re-opened but State Highway 73 at Arthur's Pass remained closed.
Otira Pub owner Gillian MacDougall said she was ready to evacuate if a slip nearby gave way any further.
However, she said, just where she and others should escape to remained an open question - as further slips over the road to the west and east of Otira meant they were trapped in all directions.
The small alpine settlement was at the centre of the mid-summer weather "bomb low", which has brought heavy rain and winds of up to 150km/h to central parts of the country.
Travellers and locals have been stranded by the slips, as have those in the nearby township of Arthur's Pass. The road was expected to take at least another day to clear.
Otira is home to about 40 people while Arthur's Pass has roughly 30.
Ms MacDougall said while her pub had so far avoided being damaged, a passing ute driver had not been so lucky.
"I woke up because the wind was howling, but when I looked out the window I could see all of these trucks up behind me, and I thought... What is going on?
"What had happened is [he] was driving past along the main road and the slip came down and pushed him off the road."
The driver had escaped unscathed, she said.
Three truck drivers and three campervans carrying tourists were trapped in the pub when the weather hit and they were all getting to know each other rather well, she said.
"They would probably rather have been on the other side before it all happened, because now they're boxed in, aren't they. I think this is when you come together, isn't it. Everyone comes together and has a laugh and talks about what's happened."
Slips could take another day to clear
The New Zealand Transport Agency said contractors had started using heavy machinery to clear the slips on Arthur's Pass, but SH73 was unlikely to re-open before Saturday.
The weather hit hardest through the alpine pass, where creeks and rivers rose rapidly and trees and debris were sent tumbling onto roads.
Regional performance manager Pete Connors said the most significant slip was just east of Aitkens, where about 20,000 cubic metres of debris was covering the road.
"It is significant and the problem is it's where rail is immediately adjacent to the road, so it's not a simple matter of just side-casting the slip - we've got to actually physically remove it."
KiwiRail was unable to use the railway line through the pass at the moment, he said.
Lines crews at work
Aurora Energy said 14 Otago properties would be without power overnight.
The lines company has today reconnected about 1500 homes and businesses that lost power in the big storm.
But it said the remaining few in Island Block, Millers Flat and Raes Junction were cut off by damaged lines likely to be too dangerous to repair this evening.