27 Mar 2019

West Coast weather: What you need to know

1:48 pm on 27 March 2019

A state of emergency is in force in Westland district and a person has died after the area was inundated with record rainfall.

Flood hit parts of Hokitika.

Flood hit parts of Hokitika. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Here's what you need to know

A elderly woman's body has washed up on the banks of a flooded West Coast river, police said.

They said they were called to the Arahura Valley, north of Hokitika, just before 9.30am. It appears the woman got out of her car to cross a flooded road, and was swept away in the strong current

Some parts of Westland had up to 800mm of rain since yesterday and the town of Haast experienced a one-in-100-year flood.

Waiho Bridge on State Highway 6 just south of Franz Josef township washed away in torrential rain yesterday. It connects south Westland to the rest of the West Coast and is a vital link for the tourist centres of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

The Transport Agency said it hopes to have the bridge rebuilt within 10 days.

Westland Civil Defence controller Simon Bastion said it had been a "horrendous" and "scary" 24 hours on the Coast, but rivers were now receding.

The West Coast Emergency Co-ordination Centre (ECC) and Westland Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) are operating.

Minister of Civil Defence Kris Faafoi arrived in Hokitika this morning, and will be visiting various locations in Westland throughout the day, Civil Defence said.

The Red Cross is deploying a team to help assist where needed and help with evacuations.


The Waiho Bridge has been totally taken out by the raging floodwaters.

The Waiho Bridge was taken out by raging floodwaters. Photo: Civil Defence West Coast

A community information centre to help with displaced people has been set up in the Hokitika iSite, on the corner of Weld Street and Railway Terrace, Hokitika from 8.30 am.

People needing welfare assistance are asked to contact 0800 474 834, Westland District Council said.

Properties were flooded in Haast last night after minor breaches to the Hapuka and Okuru rivers. Seven people were evacuated from properties in Waiatoto. A welfare centre at Haast has opened.

In Hokitika at least two homes have been flooded above floor level.

Westland Milk, which has its main dairy factory in this part of Hokitika has also experienced some flooding.

The Haast and Franz Josef rivers are now under alarm levels, Westland civil defence controller Simon Bastion said.

About 450 tourists were in Franz Josef last night and should be able to leave there today.

Jim Cowan has damage to some carpet and wall linings in his garage and his man cave. He lives on Livingstone Street in Hokitika.

Jim Cowan has damage to some carpet and wall linings in his garage and his man cave. He lives on Livingstone Street in Hokitika. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Roads, transport and travel

SH73 from Arthur's Pass through to Jacksons and Otira to Kumara Junction is closed, with a slip at Candys Creek and flooding elsewhere.

SH6 Franz Josef to Fox Glacier is closed as the Waiho Bridge has been washed away.

Local roads closed:

  • SH6 Hokitika to Franz - open one lane in places
  • SH6 Franz to Fox - closed - situation update 9.00am 28 March
  • SH6 Fox to Haast - open one lane in places
  • SH6 Haast to Makarora - open one lane in places
  • SH73 Otira to Jacksons - closed
  • SH73 Jacksons to Kumara - open one lane in places
  • SH6 Coast road is now open

Ritchies Bus Services has suspended all services for the whole of the West Coast today.

Weather warnings

A heavy rain warning is still in force for Buller, and strong winds are forecast for Wellington and Wairarapa, MetService said.

See MetService weather warning here

Rainfall on the West Coast in the last two days has set a nationwide record since measurements began 40 years ago.

And more than a metre fell at the Hotikika catchment of the Cropp River in the 48 hours to 8am this morning, beating the previous record by 40mm, which was set in December 1995.

At the highest altitudes, rainfall exceeded 1m, nearly the total average annual rainfall in Auckland, Niwa said.

Rainfall numbers up to about 8.30am:

- Cropp River: 1096mm

- Mueller Hut: 683.6mm

- Ivory Glacier: 636mm

- Haast River 578.5mm

- Mt Cook: 533.3mm

- Mt Philistine: 489mm

Hokitika Gorge in flood on Tuesday evening.

Hokitika Gorge in flood on Tuesday evening. Photo: Supplied / Gordon Wells

Flooding in Hokitika.

Flooding in Hokitika. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Power, communication cuts

Some power disruptions at Haast and inland from Hokitika are ongoing. Transpower are aware of these and are working to restore power as soon as possible, Civil Defence said.

Fibre and phone lines south of Franz Josef have been severely disrupted. Chorus have advised they are working to restore vital communications, it said.

Schools, community services

Franz Josef and Haast schools are closed today.

McLeans Pit Landfill & Recycling Centre near Greymouth is closed today until further notice due to surface flooding on the road.

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