9 Jun 2016

Weather halts search for 4WD's occupants

9:18 pm on 9 June 2016

A search for a toddler and a man missing from a vehicle in a swollen West Coast river has been suspended due to bad weather.

The four-wheel drive became partially submerged when the driver tried to cross the Poerua River, about 80km south of Hokitika, about midday.

Three of the five people inside escaped, but the 66-year-old man and two-year-old girl have not been found.

West Coast Area Commander Inspector Melanie Aitken, who was at the scene, said the pair hadn't been seen since the vehicle became stranded.

Police, two helicopters and whitewater rescue teams have been scouring the river and its banks without success.

Police have called off the search until light and weather conditions improved. The search probably would not resume until at least tomorrow morning, they said.

St John Ambulance said it was alerted to the incident at 12.16pm, and had sent an ambulance and a rescue helicopter.

A woman who lives at the property where the incident happened said the river was in flood.

Another resident, Karen Davie, said she did not know about the incident but had seen at least three police cars and a couple of fire trucks go past her house.

It was raining and she believed about 60mm of rain had fallen since 3.30am.

The river could be crossed in a tractor, but not a car or truck, she said.

A heavy rain warning was in place for Westland and MetService had warned rivers could rise rapidly, making driving conditions dangerous.

Harihari, West Coast

Harihari, West Coast Photo: GOOGLE MAPS