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Engineers struggle to reopen South Island roads

Thursday 3 Jan 2013 5:14 p.m.

Engineers are trying to divert a West Coast river as they struggle to reopen the region's vital main road hit by flood damage.

The wash-out of the Wanganui River bridge on State Highway 6 north of Hari Hari has stopped tourist traffic and forced farmers relying on tanker pick-ups to dump milk.

The gap between land and the damaged bridge over the Wanganui River has grown dramatically, now 40m wide.

Doug Miller has lived here all his life, so he can can compare this flood to many others.

“[I’ve] never seen it like this. This would probably be up there with the worst.”

There is no getting across the 40m gap, but those south of the bridge were literally thrown a lifeline. By marrying old technology with new, a simple fishing rod hurled a fibre optic cable across to the other side, reconnecting power and telecommunications.

“Of course south of here you don't have any cellphone coverage to speak of, so it's gets real vital and needs to be fixed,” says Chorus contractor Tom Richardson.

While repairs are underway, the portable temporary Bailey bridge that's on standby might be too short and won't fit the gap.

“It’s still a possible option, it will bridge a gap but we need that gap to be solid at either end to support the Bailey bridge, and obviously take the traffic over it,” says Mark Pinner of the New Zealand Transport Agency.

NZTA says it will be at least a couple of days before a replacement will be up-and-running.

But already the wait is causing serious problems for 50 dairy farms that are cut off - they've been forced to dump thousands of litres of milk into effluent ponds. Tankers will reach them eventually, however.

“One of the things we are doing today is sending tankers on a 1000 km journey from Hoki to the bottom of the south to collect that milk,” says Bernard May of Westland Dairy.

Yesterday’s deluge has caused problems across the West Coast. Slips in the Buller Gorge trapped motorists overnight.

“We came across that part of the hill,” says Ben Rech. “[It] had fallen down, and we turned around and went back the other way and trees had fallen down, so we were kind of stuck.”

And the effects of the coast's deluge have hit Canterbury, the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers having spectacular flows.

But back on the West Coast it was a case of right place right time for one cyclist. Our news crew helicopter lifted him and his bike across the river - if only every person trapped was this lucky.

3 News

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