5 Dec 2019

'When, not if': Wanaka residents and council staff preparing for expected flooding

9:16 pm on 5 December 2019

Wanaka residents and council staff are preparing for flooding that's expected to hit tomorrow.

Debris on the Lake Wanaka waterfront.

Debris on the Lake Wanaka waterfront. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

This week, more than 400 millimetres of rain have fallen on the headwaters that feed into Lake Wanaka, and more is on its way.

Sandbags and plastic sheets line the front of many lakefront businesses in the town and debris has piling up on the shore as the lake level rises.

By Thursday evening it hadn't reached Wanaka's main street, but the Queenstown Lakes District Council said it was a matter of when, not if.

The council has shut down some of the town's sewerage system to stop waste entering the lake.

Sandbagging in Wanaka on 5 December 2019 as the lake level rose.

Sandbagging in front of businesses near Wanaka's waterfront. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Queenstown Lakes harbour master Marty Black is urging people to stay off the district's rivers and lakes.

He said anyone thinking of taking a boat, kayak or other vessel on to the water needed to reconsider as swollen rivers to continued to run fast, lakes remained high and strong winds were only adding to the risk.

The Clutha River was a particular concern and as the council continued to monitor the flow rates, an explicit prohibition would be issued if necessary, he said.

The jetties on Lake Wanaka have been closed and there is a significant risk to boaties due to the possibility of floating debris and submerged structures.

Lake Wanaka is full to the brim. Pictured on 3/12/19

A submerged jetty on Lake Wanaka. Photo: Supplied / Krystle Theunissen

Just south of Wanaka, a swift community response has lead to 200 Queenstown school children and staff being rescued from a remote camp site after heavy rain hit inland Otago.

The Year 10 pupils of Wakatipu High School went for their yearly trip to Branches Camp, about 15 kilometres from Skippers Canyon, last Friday.

But the 12-day trip had to be cut short after heavy rain has caused rivers and lakes to swell in the Queenstown Lakes District.

The school thanked local businesses like Nomads and NZSki for their offers to help and say the rescue was a community effort.