The coast road to Westport State Highway 6 has reopened as the West Coast town appears to have escaped another flood with river levels dropping.
More than 160mm of rain has fallen in less than 24 hours and it comes five days after the last state of emergency was lifted, following torrential rain and flooding which prompted the evacuation of hundreds of homes.
Civil Defence public information manager Krissy Trigg said on Thursday night that police had started reassurance checks with Westport residents who were told to evacuate earlier yesterday.
She said it was not yet known how many houses had been impacted by flooding.
Trigg said the Orowaiti River had not broken its banks so far.
Just after midday, officials reported that Buller River was running at 11.4 metres and rising after a night of record-breaking rainfall.
Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said water had inundated a number of houses on Roebuck St, near the Westport Domain.
"The upstream gauges of the Buller River are still rising, so there's a lot of water to still come down from the greater catchment and that's what's giving the river monitoring team a lot of concern for later in the day for Westport."
Cleine confirmed SH6 the coast road to Greymouth has reopened but said it is very fragile and under pressure. He is advising Westport people not to travel that way unless they really have to.
Buller Emergency Management officials said that modelling showed the situation would be similar to the July 2012 floods in the area, and a mandatory evacuation order was issued for residents living in parts of Westport this afternoon.
The rainfall was "was under forecast, in terms of intensity and impacts" and the Inangahua and Buller Rivers were being closely monitored, they said.
"Due to our current isolation, we don't currently have the additional resource present in the district last week. We encourage people to help themselves, and their neighbours. Anyone who needs special assistance should contact the Emergency Operations Centre on 0800 234 533."
The rain is expected to ease, with MetService lifting its heavy rain warning for the West Coast and the watch for the Tasman region.
Buller Emergency Management this afternoon announced that Westport residents have been told to evacuate, with heavy rain coinciding with a high tide expected to result in flooding of low lying areas of the town this evening.
Mayor Jamie Cleine said residents in parts of Snodgrass, northern Derby Street, Racecourse Area and the Lagoon need to leave now.
"I know that leaving your homes behind again can be really disruptive and distressing, especially for those who went through this ordeal last week, but it's critical we all do so to keep ourselves safe," he said.
Civil Defence Controller Bob Dickson said heavy rain coinciding with the high tide, expected shortly before 7pm, could inundate low-lying areas.
"The modelling suggest that low laying areas of Westport are at serious risk of flooding and we must put people's safety first. We put a mandatory evacuation order in place for these at risk areas in Westport to ensure residents safety," he said in a statement.
"If your house is within the evacuation zone this means you must go to higher ground and seek alternative accommodation such as staying with family or friends outside of the evacuation zones. Take your emergency grab bag and pets with you."
He said this evening that the Buller River is running at 11.4m high, but officials expect it will lower.
He said the smaller river that runs through Westport, the Orowaiti, is still rising however, and significant slips have been reported on the region's roads.
Evacuation centres have been arranged again for residents at Sergeants Hill Hall, South School Hall, Waimangaro Hall and Carters Beach Motor Camp for people not able to stay with family and friends.
Locals are being warned not to drive or walk through flood water, which may contain debris from washed-away parts of the road.
Civil Defence urged people to treat all flood water as contaminated and unsafe.
Westport residents are being warned the heavy rain could see its sewer and storm water systems overrun.
The Buller District Council said people should be cautious about flushing their toilets if there is a lot of standing water outside their house, or their toilet water level is high.
Residents ordered to leave their homes should leave the toilet lid closed, with a heavy object on top, before evacuating.
The council is asking anyone who has not left their home to minimise their water use.
"Many areas within Westport do not currently have a properly functioning sewer system or storm water system," the council posted on Facebook.
Another bout of record breaking rain for the West Coast— MetService (@MetService) February 9, 2022
Looks like Westport Airport has broken it's wettest 9am-9am record with already more than 160mm with a few hours to go.
Also appears the wettest month on record there - sitting near 460mm currently.
Records begun 1944 pic.twitter.com/Lk4h3ZVmnR
In Westport, firefighters received eight calls from people whose homes had either flooded or were at risk of flooding.
People from Seddonville and Mokihinui north of the town have been evacuated, while around two households had to leave their homes at Waimangaroa because a slip was threatening their properties.
Buller Health staff were among those preparing to evacuate, with all outpatient, day surgery and planned care appointments cancelled today.
West Coast DHB incident controller Philip Wheble said Buller Medical remained open for urgent care.
For people north of Westport, there are health staff in Karamea and Ngakawau. For those in Reefton, Reefton Health remains open.
The Westport Covid-19 vaccination clinic is also closed today and tomorrow.
Westport South School principal Jo Duston said children had been sent home and an evacuation centre had been set up in the hall.
"At the moment, they're setting up places where people can eat and some of the school lunches will directed there so that there's food for people, and then later this afternoon they'll assess whether they need to open up classrooms and set up for sleeping."
Westport resident Anita O'Brien said last night's heavy rain was reminiscent of last July's flooding and took many by surprise.
"It was really quick, really quick this time, and there's a few areas that didn't flood last time that are flooded this time. Like our street for instance, we had more water in our part of the street than we did either of the last two times. It did subside pretty quickly.
"But just the flow of the river going through the car park, it looked a lot stronger this than what it did even in July."
Water supply and risk of contamination
Buller Emergency Management officials are also warning that there is increased risk of water contamination in Reefton, due to surface flooding. Residents are being asked to boil their water.
Drinking water supplies at Waimangaroa and Inangahua were also out due to pipe damage at both supply sites, they said.
Access to undertake repairs was currently not possible, they said.
The Fire and Emergency Waimangaroa brigade have set up a water disposal point at the station for residents.
A number of roads in the Buller district are closed because of flooding and slips.
- SH67 Mokihiniu to Karamea - road to Karamea is closed from Mokihinui
- SH67 Westport to Mokihinui - surface flooding and slips due to heavy rain
- SH6 8 Mile to Inangahua - surface flooding and slips due to heavy rain
- SH69 Inangahua to Reefton - closed due to flooding
- SH7 Springs Junction to Reefton - Rahu Saddle - closed due to slip and surface flooding in this area
- Motorists are being urged to take care on State Highway 67A to Carters Beach where the road is flooded and the speed limit has been reduced to 30km/h.
Record-breaking rainfall in Westport
Flood warning, 29 degrees and now… a graph of the rise in the Buller river overnight. It’s around 2m higher than at the weekend. pic.twitter.com/0idjFycQAF— Glen Scanlon (@glen_scanlon) February 9, 2022
MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said a more than 160mm of rain was recorded at Westport airport in less than 24 hours.
That "smashed" the record for a 24-hour period set just last week.
February was also likely to be the wettest month on record, Ferris told Morning Report.
"This has been two very large rainfall events very close together which is very bad news for local residents."