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Wild weather, flooding batters Hawkes Bay

Wednesday 27 Apr 2011 11:54 a.m.

By Brook Sabin

The army has been called in to help evacuate people from some coastal towns in the Hawkes Bay, after extreme rainfall caused flooding overnight.

Near Hastings, the extreme weather caused flooding and slips in three coastal settlements; Waimarama, Clifton and Te Awanga.

At least 60 people in Te Awanga and Waimarama have been forced from their homes by rising waters, after 200mm of rain fell in just 24 hours. Roofs have been blown off, trees knocked down and power cut out.

The NZPA says fourteen Hawke's Bay settlements have been hit by flooding and slips, with up to 100 people evacuated in all.

Around 3 this morning the main road of Te Awanga – 21km southeast of Napier - looked like a river.

Firefighters spent an anxious couple of hours checking houses, making sure people were safe – but many had already self-evacuated. In total, around 30 from Te Awanga were forced from their homes. They were being looked after at the Civil Defence centre in Haumoana, 13km from Hastings, Inspector Dean Clifford said.

The local motor camp was under half a metre of water – its manager remains trapped in her house.

A number of roads have also been closed, including the main access to Waimarama. Overnight 30 residents were evacuated, but slips have so far prevented emergency services from reaching the area.

Army personnel have since arrived in the region and have made it through to Waimarama to help with evacuations. The council hopes to have the route open to the public later today.

Te Awanga resident Kim Brown told NZPA there was knee-high water in low-lying areas. Her house was untouched as she lived on a slight hill, but there was heavy flooding near the beach, she said.

"We do have the...reserve which is completely flooded, which is the overflow from the river. I've never seen that happen before. We have a river flowing back through it."

Lorraine Thompson, who lives near Waimarama, told NZPA the road from her house was flooded and the Maraetotara Road bridge submerged.

"I don't want to see anyone trying to drive down the road because I don't think they'd make it."

She said her community was isolated and it was still raining heavily.

Waimarama resident David Wilson said he could not leave his house because there was a slip across his driveway.

"It shouldn't take too much to clear, but we are waiting for the weather to become a little bit better before I do that."

He said there was surface flooding around his farm, but it was shallow.

"We are at the beginning of the season at the moment, so the soil isn't saturated. We will have some damage, but hopefully it will be more like silt rather than big slips."

Mr Wilson said he had a couple of fences down because of the water across the streams.

Meanwhile, gale force winds are lashing much of the central and lower North Island.

Workers in the capital are among those who had a hard time getting to work this morning, umbrellas rendered useless in the gusts – forecast to reach up to 100kmph today.

Despite the weather, ferries and flights are operating as usual, apart from a few cancellations out of New Plymouth.

Power companies have called in all crews to remove fallen trees, and to replace power lines brought down in the storm.

Some areas were likely to be without power again tonight because it was too dangerous for repair crews to work in the high winds.

In areas of rural Taupo area 650 customers, including numerous farms, may not have power restored until later today.

Lines company Unison spokesman, Danny Gough said power was restored to the main Taupo area last night after thousands of households had power cut yesterday. All substations were back on line, he said.

The challenge was getting power back on to around 650 customers in outlying area. Crews were working to remove fallen trees and branches and re-erect downed lines and, weather permitting, the company hoped to have those back online today.

Powerco, which covered the western Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, said until the weather improved it was difficult to provide accurate restoration times for about 2600 customers without power.

The storm cut power to about 11,500 Powerco customers yesterday. Extremely high winds were making restoration difficult, network operations manager Phil Marsh said.

"In some areas our crews have not been able to do much more than make the network safe as they have not been able to safely climb poles due to the high winds.

"We expect to restore the majority of supply to customers today, however it is likely a few customers will be without power tonight as the gale force winds are forecast to continue in some areas."

Many power cuts could have been avoided if tree owners had trimmed them well clear of power lines, he said.

MetService said heavy rain and wind would start to ease this morning.

Strong southeast winds which have battered the Central North Island across to Taranaki and down to Kapiti Coast, Wellington, the Marlborough Sounds and Golden Bay would continue, at times gusting up to 130kmh, until later this morning, forecaster Ian Miller said.

In Gisborne, the heaviest falls were over but outbreaks of rain were expected through to Thursday.

Rain was expected to continue falling near the ranges and coastal hills in Hawke's Bay and Tararua district through to this evening.

Southeast gales gusting to 120kmh were forecast for parts of Nelson, Buller and Westland this morning.

3 News / NZPA

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