22 Jul 2022

Wild weather: Travel disruption set to continue after storm

9:28 am on 22 July 2022

The wild weather in Wellington yesterday has left Air New Zealand with 126,000 people to move in the next three days.

Planes are grounded at Wellington Airport due to a storm

Severe weather forced 181 flights into and out of Wellington to be cancelled or diverted on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The airline had to cancel 181 flights yesterday, leaving many intending travellers stranded.

However those travelling by the Interislander ferry have been able to be rebooked and most roads have now reopened although Waka Kotahi says the sodden ground means it is "precarious".

For Air New Zealand, the disruption to flights will roll on for several days as they attempt to clear the backlog.

About 375 homes in Wairarapa remain without power and several roads around the capital are affected by landslips, erosion and surface flooding, and motorists are advised to take care.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the schedule was packed due to the school holidays.

Winter illnesses including Covid have also meant that Air New Zealand's absenteeism rate is about three times higher than normal, he said.

Flights only resumed in and out Wellington this morning, with one flight leaving early this morning and a number were scheduled from about 8am onwards, he said.

Asked when passengers who had their flights cancelled yesterday could expect to be rebooked, Foran said it was a challenge, partly because it was one of the busiest parts of the school holidays as people looked to return home.

"It's obviously pretty full for today, Saturday and Sunday and we've got to get planes and crew repositioned.

"So that's why I just want to be clear with people, we'll certainly do our best to get as many people moved today as we can, but the reality is we'll still be moving people Saturday and in some cases Sunday."

Air New Zealand will also be looking at the possibility of buses and Foran encouraged anyone who did not have to travel to look at not flying and putting their fare into credit.

Non-refundable tickets would be put into credit, but people with a refundable ticket would be able to get refunded, Foran said.

Air New Zealand has provided accommodation in most cases but hotel rooms were not always available and Foran said he was feeling for those with no alternative way to get home.

"I am aware that there are some cases in some airports where some people have ended up having to stay overnight, but in most cases ... we do get people accommodation."

People queuing at Wellington Airport after all flights in and out of the capital were cancelled on 21 July 2022 due to the weather.

People queuing at Wellington Airport on Thursday after flights were cancelled. Photo: RNZ / Jake McKee

Ferry travellers rebooked

Interislander ferries have bounced back after a slew of cancellations yesterday.

Rough seas forced a number of Interislander and Bluebridge ferry sailings to be cancelled on Thursday.

Swells have dropped from their overnight peak of seven metres overnight to three to four metres this morning.

Interislander ferries executive general manager Walter Rushbrook said the 2.30am sailing left from Picton this morning and the Aratere left at 6.30am.

"I did speak to the Master a few minutes ago, he said it's about four to five metres [swell] and he categorised it as an average bad day in Cook Strait," Rushbrook said.

About 600 people had their travel plans disrupted yesterday, but a lot of school holiday travellers have been able to be accommodated on today's sailings, he said.

An additional sailing has been put on during the weekend if there was further backlog that needed to be cleared, Rushbrook said.

Interislander contacted people earlier in the week warning them of the forecast bad weather and many had already changed their travel plans to avoid being potentially disrupted, he said.

Local ferries were also cancelled, leaving a family stuck on Matiu / Somes Island, in the middle of the Wellington Harbour.

They hunkered down overnight and Jason Johnson said they went up to the trig point on the island once it stopped raining yesterday, but it was very windy.

"It was walking on all fours at points to get to the top of the hill, I think that's pretty serious gusts, the windmill on top of the island looked positively scary, like it was going to come off its bearings - but it stayed there."

Johnson said they were staying at the Department of Conservation house on the island and the family took the ferry in on Wednesday.

Wild weather on Wellington's south coast on 21 July 2022.

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Roading network open but precarious

The storm closed a number of roads, and damaged many more, but Waka Kotahi says most have been able to be at least partially reopened fairly quickly.

Mark Owen from Waka Kotahi said the roads in the South Island have been able to be reopened reasonably quickly thanks to a respite in the weather and the good work of maintenance contractors on the ground.

"The only restriction we do have is that State Highway 6, south of Murchison where we've had that major rockfall and the crews are working hard to come up with a solution to enable us to open that to hopefully one lane."

The timeline for that will be known later today, he said.

SH6 rock fall west of Murchison

SH6 rock fall west of Murchison Photo: Supplied / Waka Kotahi

The fallen rock can be moved but there are other overhanging rocks that have been exposed on the cliff and workers need to ensure that the road can be made safe before reopening it, he said.

The weather has also eased in the North Island and a lot of the roads are now back open again, Owen said.

"But I will say that the network is tender, you know we've got a few days to continue doing repairs but with more rain coming there is still risk of road closures."

A washout on State Highway 35 between Ōpōtiki and Te Kaha.

SH35 west of Ōpōtiki remains closed. Photo: Waka Kotahi

State Highway 35, west of Ōpōtiki remains closed after the river came onto the road.

"It's going to be quite a major repair there and again until the river levels drop that's going to be quite challenging, so we're conscious this does affect communities."

Crews are working hard, but people should be aware SH35 could be closed for a time so they need to look at detour options, he said.

SH36 or Pyes Pa Road between Rotorua and Tauranga is also closed but hopefully it will be reopened later today, he said.

Waka Kotahi will be working hard over the next few days to improve remaining roading issues prior to more rain which is forecast for next week, he said.

"The ground is absolutely saturated, unless it actually has time to dry out more rain's just going to make it more vulnerable, so we'll just address that as it comes."

Motorists should watch for ice in areas such as parts of the South Island where low temperatures are forecast and be careful as they are travelling, he said.

"Our crews will be out monitoring but also with the weather I just think you've got to have a plan B if you are going to be travelling, check before you go as to whether the route's open."

MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said the weather was entering a settled period for this weekend, but more unsettled weather is forecast for next week.

"The further south you it looks like the longer of a [settled] period you will have, it looks like Northland will be the first to get the wind and rain as we move through Sunday into Monday and that will generally spread down the country over the next week."

The weekend break in the weather meant it looked good for travel around the country, although there would some sizeable swells in Cook Strait today everything will be easing off, he said.

This winter had been especially wet for some places, with rain in Christchurch this month already two and a half times the July average.

Rivers burst their banks and flooded roads in Christchurch on Thursday and an evacuation was ordered in Pleasant Point because of the flooding risk of an eroded stopbank along the Opihi River.

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