31 May 2021

Canterbury flooding: Thousands in Ashburton prepare to evacuate

12:04 am on 31 May 2021

Heavy rain continues to fall in Canterbury, raising fears of further evacuations and flooding, particularly in Ashburton where half of the town's residents are preparing to leave their homes.

The Ashburton River this afternoon.

The Ashburton River this afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

MetService has a code-red warning in place for Canterbury as the deluge is expected to bring up to 400mm to the high country by Monday afternoon. A red warning is its highest alert level and has only been issued once before.

People have been evacuated in Springfield, the Upper and Lower Selywn Huts and in Peel Forest, while people trapped by floodwaters have been rescued in multiple locations.

Late this evening, Waimakariri District Council said the Eyre River stopbanks are now expected to fail and 133 households along the river from Wolffs Road and north of the river to North Eyre Road must evacuate immediately.

The Ashley River stopbank is also at risk of failure and 100 Fernside residents between Mt Thomas Road, Oxford Road and Merton Road should also evacuate immediately. Another eight households near Kairaki Beach are also being evacuated.

The Mandeville Sports Centre and Rangiora Baptist Church have been set up as evacuation centres.

Geraldine Retirement Village has also been evacuated as a precaution, a staff member said.

Many roads, including some sections of state highways, are closed, while more than 70 schools, kura and early learning services in Canterbury have confirmed they will be closed tomorrow.

Ashburton, Timaru and Selwyn have all declared a civil defence emergency.

A woman and her child walk past a road closure due to flooding sign board in Christchurch, New Zealand on May 30, 2021.

Photo: 2021 Getty Images

A region-wide state of local emergency has been declared by the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group.

Chair of the Joint Committee and Mayor of Christchurch Lianne Dalziel made the declaration at 4.45pm.

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In Ashburton, the river has been rising rapidly and the army has been sent in in case residents need to be evacuated.

Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said there was still capacity in the Ashburton River, but pressure points were of a major concern.

Half of the town's residents would have to be evacuated if the river breached the stopbanks, Brown said.

Ashburton District Council is advising residents in the vicinities of Allenton, Netherby and Racecourse Road, to prepare for evacuation as a "precautionary measure".

Acting Minister for Emergency Management Kris Faafoi travelled to the Canterbury town to assess the impact of heavy rain, and said about 3000 houses were at risk of flooding.

New Zealand Defence Force said army personnel from Burnham Camp, including three trucks and an ambulance, have been deployed to the town to assist with potential evacuations.

Fire crews from other parts of Canterbury have also been sent in to assist.

Two Defence Force NH90 helicopters have also deployed to Christchurch to be available if required.

A command and control team from HQ Joint Forces New Zealand is also available.

There are concerns the high tide, due about 8pm, could cause more flooding.

Newport Street in the Christchurch suburb of Avondale had been badly flooded

Newport Street in the Christchurch suburb of Avondale had been badly flooded Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Ashburton activated its Civil Defence emergency operation centre earlier today, and residents have been asked to boil their water.

Canterbury regional council's flood controller, Shaun McCracken, said by Sunday morning the situation was the most severe in the Mid Canterbury, Ashburton and Hinds River areas, particularly at Ashburton Forks and Thompson's Track.

If you have witnessed flooding and would like to share pictures or video with us, please email it to: iwitness@radionz.co.nz

Rivers in the upper part of those catchments were flowing very high, with gauges recording some of the highest volumes ever, and more rain coming down.

Deputy Mayor Liz McMillan urged people to stay home and keep safe. She said the council was sending updates through text messages and posts on its Facebook page.

Thirty houses evacuated in Selwyn District

About 30 households are being evacuated in Springfield, Selwyn District.

Local Civil Defence controller Douglas Marshall, who is overseeing the evacuations, said he was "just working at the moment with residents and taking them to support overnight."

"We've set up community emergency centres in Lincoln and Darfield to assist with the emergency evacuation processes."

Selwyn District Council declared a civil defence emergency about 2pm today, saying it allowed authorities to better manage the situation.

People living at the Selwyn Huts had been evacuated, and the council urged anyone in the district who felt unsafe to self-evacuate. If they could not stay with family or friends, an emergency centre was open at the Darfield Recreation Centre.

Motorists should expect continuing flooding and road closures and restrictions, and the areas around Selwyn River, and between SH1 and Leeston were likely to be the most disrupted, the council's civil defence controller Douglas Marshall said.

"We really do urge people to stay off the roads. Travel is likely to be disrupted for some time, and we do not want to see travellers becoming trapped. The best thing for people to do is avoid driving for the foreseeable future."

The council is urging people on the Springfield, Arthur's Pass, Hororata, Malvern Hills and Malvern Hills Dalethorpe to conserve water supplies.

Water is unable to be drawn safely, so the water supply has been shut to these areas.

A 'do not consume' notice is now in place for the Springfield water supply, the council said.

It encouraged residents to use an alternative supply if they had access to one, and said urgent supplies of bottled water would be made available at the Springfield Fire Station.

A Mid-Canterbury farmer says it has been an extremely challenging day and there are concerns about what damage will occur overnight.

Farming leaders have been holding regular phone conferences as the floodwaters rise.

David Clark, who is the Federated Farmers president for the region, said there had been multiple rescues of farmers and other members of the public, as well as stock losses.

Farmers were working in dangerous conditions, he said.

"If we can finish today without having somebody killed in the day's events that will be a great outcome because farmers are working very, very hard to look after the welfare of their animals and as we've seen by today's rescues, in some cases they've actually put their own lives on the line to save animals."

Clark said the rainfall event has been much worse than expected.

Christchurch braces for more flooding

The Heathcote River in Christchurch has broken its banks by Clarendon Terrace, and a number of streets in central Christchurch are closed due to severe flooding.

The council said the next high tide at 8pm was likely to bring fresh flooding to the city.

"Most of the flooding that we've had so far has been related to the king tides," council spokesperson Tim Drennan said.

If anyone living close to a river or waterway felt unsafe, they should self-evacuate, the council said.

The view over the Heathcote River on to Clarendon Terrace in Christchurch.

The view over the Heathcote River on to Clarendon Terrace in Christchurch. Photo: Photo / Rachel Graham

Multiple roads in the city have been closed, and the council is encouraging people who use those roads to consider alternative routes. A full list is on its website.

"So if you normally travel these routes to get to work or school, please start thinking about alternative ways of travel," the council said in a statement.

High tide on Monday morning is due at 8.30am.

The council is also urging people to drive slowly if they need to be out on the road, so that water is not pushed onto people's properties.

People are advised to avoid walking or biking through surface water as there is a chance it could be contaminated with wastewater.

Timaru warns some residents to conserve water

Timaru has also declared a state of emergency.

Timaru civil defence controller Justin Bagust said thanks to the state of emergency, police were able to help evacuate four people who were refusing to leave their flood-threatened home in Peel Forest.

Two Defence Force staff have since joined the Timaru Civil Defence team to help with planning in case more evacuations are needed.

Timaru District Council is warning residents in low lying areas near waterways to prepare for rising water and to evacuate if required, and to ensure the safety of stock.

There are multiple road closures in the area.

Mayor of Timaru Nigel Bowen said roads throughout the region are closed and people shouldn't be venturing out.

"Hunker down. Stay home. We don't want anyone out on the roads travelling at all - there are so many road outages at the moment."

Civil defence centres are open at Southern Trust Events Centre in Timaru, Alpine Energy Stadium in Temuka and Geraldine High School and St Andrews Church Hall in Geraldine.

The council said Te Moana Water Scheme users must conserve water "as the current conditions have caused the Te Moana water scheme some problems and it is not producing water. Repairs could take some time, please conserve water until further notice."

Dozens of schools, kura to close

Fifty-two schools and kura and 24 early learning services in Canterbury have confirmed they will be closed tomorrow, Ministry of Education said in a statement.

Many others have indicated they will make a final decision early tomorrow morning.

All closures were a matter for school boards or service managers to decide on.

"By 7pm tonight 52 schools and kura, of the region's 292, and 24 early learning services, of 544, had confirmed to the ministry they would close," the ministry said in a statement.

"Students, parents and whānau are encouraged to check with their schools, kura or early learning service on the status for tomorrow, via regular channels such as their websites."

The ministry said it was working closely with schools, kura and early learning services that need additional advice and support.

More rain coming for Canterbury

MetService said rainfall for the Canterbury High Country and foothills would total above 400mm in some areas for the entire three-day event.

A further 80mm to 100mm of rain was expected in Canterbury High Country and foothills, and a further 30mm to 50mm of rain is expected on top of what has already fallen farther east about the Plains and coast.

Peak hourly rainfall rates of 10mm to 15mm per hour are expected about the High Country and foothills, MetService said.

A heavy rain warning is also in place for Marlborough, from 2am on Monday through to 9pm.

Canterbury south of the Rangitata River

Flooding is expected south of the Rangitata River in low parts of Geraldine near the Orari River, in the Arowhenua area, and between Geraldine and Temuka, including around the Hae Hae Te Moana and Kakahu rivers, the Canterbury regional council said.

Overnight significant amounts of rain fell in the area - between 150 and 180mm.

By 9am, the Orari River was flowing about 500 cubic metres per second, and still rising, and the rivers around the Temuka area were within capacity, but being closely monitored.

Power cuts to homes

Surface flooding in Christchurch has knocked out power to hundreds of homes throughout the morning.

About 240 homes around Bishopdale went dark just before 5.30am this morning but it was restored later in the morning.

Close to 80 households in Woolston spent the night without electricity but have had it restored this morning. And more than 2000 homes near Lake Ellesmere were briefly without power around 2am.

Further inland, about 80 homes went dark around Springfield at 4am.

Trees down and road closures

Fire crews attended numerous weather-related calls across Canterbury today.

They included rescuing people stranded by rising floodwaters, assisting householders with water entering their property, and checking fallen powerlines.

Fire and Emergency personnel are also supporting civil defence and council staff in the McKenzie, Ashburton, Timaru and Selwyn Districts, and is ready to provide support to other areas if needed, it said in a statement.

Response Coordinator Dave Stackhouse called for people to avoid unnecessary travel and to check on family and neighbours who may need help.

Roads throughout Canterbury are closed, including some state highways.

Waka Kotahi said the following highways were closed

  • SH73 linking the West Coast and Canterbury between Springfield/ Porter's Pass and Castle Hill
  • SH79 Fairlie to Rangitata
  • SH77 the inland route Darfield to Methven and Ashburton
  • SH1 south of Temuka - the highway is closed at Arowhenua Road/ the Opihi

People travelling on SH1 in Ashburton at Saunders Road, Netherby, near the Racecourse, should expect delays, and people should monitor the highways page as the situation on SH1 in Dunsandel could change, Waka Kotahi said.

Flood alert communications

Canterbury residents can sign up for free official flood alerts from the Canterbury regional council, including evacuation notices, by texting the name of their local river to 3730. Eg: text RANGITATA, or SELWYN to 3730 for updates about each river - the name of the river must be typed in uppercase letters. The other rivers for which these alerts are available, are: ASHBURTON, HINDS, PAREORA, RAKAIA, WAIHAO, WAIMAKARIRI, and WAITAKI.

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