Hundreds evacuated in wild New Zealand storms

from Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published on 16 Feb 2004
Wellington (dpa) - Hundreds of people were evacuated from their flooded homes on Monday after wild storms lashed New Zealand's North Island dumping torrential rain which caused swollen rivers to burst their banks.
Rural towns were cut off with access roads blocked by fallen trees, bridges were swept away and power lines brought down as flood waters inundated thousands of hectares of countryside up to 250 kilometres north of the capital Wellington.

An air force helicopter airlifted several families, including a pregnant woman and a baby, from the roofs of their homes as the floodwaters rose, Radio New Zealand reported.

A state of civil emergency remained in place around the flooded rural towns of Marton and Feilding, where at least 200 people were evacuated after rivers burst their banks.

Another 300 residents of Tangimoana were evacuated by troops as the entire township at the mouth of the Rangitikei River was engulfed by floodwaters and an incoming tide.

An estimated 6,500 homes remained without power late Monday afternoon as lineman were unable to reach fallen lines because of blocked highways.

The rain stopped in Wellington, where commuters had been told to delay setting off for work in the morning because trees over roads halted bus services and landslides blocked railway tracks.

Air and ferry services linking Wellington with the South Island, which was also affected, resumed in the afternoon as winds which had gusted up to 150 kilometres an hour through Cook Strait dropped.

Two men were believed drowned in boating accidents and an 18-year-old woman was seriously injured when a tree fell on her house in Auckland, trapping her in bed.

Although more rain was predicted in some areas, forecasters said the weather was improving but it would take days for the flood waters to subside, roads to be cleared and power lines restored.

Farmers who struggled to move their animals to high ground away from the flooding complained that forecasters had not predicted the heavy rains which lasted 48 hours in some places.

Hugh Ritchie, whose farm at Waipukurau, in central Hawke's Bay province was inundated, told Radio New Zealand: ''We got a long-range weather forecast in January saying there would be no rain until March. It hasn't stopped raining since.''

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