Widespread flooding — again

Clean-up ahead . . . Flooding on State Highway 1, just north of Maheno. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

The Waitaki District Council’s emergency operations centre was not deactivated for long after last week’s flooding in the upper Waitaki.

It was quickly reactivated this week, as wild weather caused widespread flooding in eastern parts of the district.

Sections of State Highway 1 north and south of Oamaru were closed on Wednesday, but most reopened later in the day. SH1 between Pukeuri and Seven Mile Rd reopened yesterday morning.

More than 37 local roads were also closed due to flooding, slips and trees down, and while floodwaters were beginning to ease in North Otago, many were likely to stay closed yesterday, affecting some school bus routes again.

North Otago Primary Principals’ Association president and Glenavy School principal Kate Mansfield said her school, as well as numerous others in the region, were closed on Wednesday.

At Glenavy School, the call was made to stop the bus runs on Tuesday night, because of the amount of rain forecast. Other schools closed on Wednesday included Five Forks, Maheno, Omarama, Duntroon, Ardgowan, Kakanui, Totara, Maheno, Hampden and Papakaio. Maheno Kindergarten was also closed.

Most schools reopened yesterday.

Schools in town were less affected by bus runs, but Covid-19 was still causing disruptions, Mrs Mansfield said.

‘‘There’s actually still a high degree of Covid around as well. Some schools, I believe they’re closed now because they don’t actually have enough staff to cover the classes,’’ she said.

‘‘If it’s not one thing, it’s another.’’

Waitaki District Council roading manager Mike Harrison said the Corriedale, Waihemo, Omarama and Lake Ohau areas were the worst affected this week.

It was too early to know the full extent of the damage on Wednesday, Mr Harrison said.

‘‘It’s not the heaviest rain we’ve ever seen, but it’s very very wet and our ground was very wet to start with,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s certainly some damage to the sealed roads and with the water sitting as a pond it actually softens the road underneath.’’

With so many roads closed across the district, and more road closures expected throughout the week, the council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency were running low on signage.

Mr Harrison encouraged drivers to treat every road as though it was under caution and take extra care.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said conditions were particularly difficult for farmers at what was already a busy time of year.

‘‘We thank everyone for their patience and co-operation as the widespread flooding issues continue and we ask that people keep hunkering down and staying off the roads where possible,’’ Mr Kircher said.

‘‘Our crews are out there doing all we can to look after the current situation and we will be getting our contractors to assess the damage and start the clean-up once conditions improve.’’

North Otago Federated Farmers president Jared Ross said farmers had been enjoying a ‘‘really good’’ winter until the recent flooding.

‘‘Feed conditions were really good, animals were all doing well, and by and large people were starting to comment it was possibly getting a little dry,’’ Mr Ross said.

The conditions were challenging for a lot of farmers, especially those in the upper Waitaki who also had snow and for dairy farmers who had calving under way.

‘‘It’s a wet, demoralising task when you’re trying to throw feed at animals, not waste it, make sure they’re fed, comfortable and happy.’’
Forecasting had come a long way, and most farmers were prepared for the rain, he said.

‘‘What’s difficult to budget for is how quickly, when we’re in saturated conditions, the rivers might come up again,’’ he said.

Mr Ross had phoned around farmers in the district, and was in regular contact with Federated Farmers, feeding information back to its emergency response team.

There was ‘‘substantial’’ road damage across the district, which would be a frustration for many, he said.

‘‘It will come at a cost, and there will be aspects of that on farms too — no doubt where things are flooded there will be some fence damage, there’ll be some paddock damage.’’