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Mar 6, 2015

04:25:56 GMT--Flood - Australia - New Zealand

EDIS Number: FL-20150306-47220-NZL

Date / time: 06/03/2015 04:23:52 [UTC]

Event: Flood

Area: Australia

Country: New Zealand

State/County: Southern Island

Location: Westport [West Coast]

Number of Deads: N/A

Number of Injured: N/A

Number of Infected: N/A

Number of Missing: N/A

Number of Affected: N/A

Number of Evacuated: N/A

Damage level: Moderate


A camper had to be whisked away from rising floodwaters, tourists were trapped by a slip and houses and businesses inundated by torrential rain lashing the West Coast today. A civil defence operations centre was activated in Westport, as emergency services responded to flooding and severe weather, but has now been wound down. Flooding also forced the closure of schools. The heavy rain caused two slips to close State Highway 6 (Lower Buller Gorge road) between Inangahua and Westport this morning, with one trapping a French couple. Laetitia Lambert, 28, and Mathieu Bekkai, 29, from Normandy, told The Westport News of their ordeal. Mr Bekkai said he thought the water on the road was just a puddle, but when they drove through they got stuck on a piece of wood. When he got out of the van and tried to dislodge the wood he heard rumbling as the slip cascaded off the mountainside. "I said to Letitia 'go out, go out now'," but she was too scared to move. "I was afraid... [There was] wood, rocks, everything, water," she told The Westport News. The slip was between five and 10 metres wide, and the water came up to the tops of his legs, Mr Lambert said. He managed to warn off other traffic and help arrived soon after. Vehicles trapped between slips in the area this morning have now been freed, but some slips remain on the road. Two trucks were trapped and a campervan was damaged when its rear was caught by one of the slips. New Zealand Transport Agency's regional performance manager Pete Connors said contractors worked hard to get the trapped vehicles out early this afternoon. Mr Connors said contractors were working at both ends of the Gorge to clear the slips, but water running off the hillside was causing some problems. He said the slip at Summit Creek brought about 2000 cubic metres of material onto the highway. The owner of Westport's Bazil's Hostel Stephen Lee said he had never seen such severe flooding in the area. He said the water was knee-deep outside and flooded the lower floor of his hostel on Russell Street. Mr Lee said although heavy rain was forecast, he had never seen rain like this - and was not shocked the drains could not handle the large volumes of water.

"It's just the stormwater system. The pipe's totally inadequate. It's just old, I think. It's a common issue, you know. Whenever we get heavy rain, the drains don't work. They just sit stagnant for too long. It's not a massive issue unless we get abnormal volumes in a short period like this." Mr Lee woke up at 4am, and when he heard how heavy the rain was, made his way downstairs to start sandbagging the hostel's entrances. "All the rooms were full, we've had a full hostel. "One young lady in a tent, she was on an air mattress in a tent, and she slept through the whole thing because I think the air mattress must have floated. "At the end of the day, there's no lives lost, and we will just have to re-carpet some rooms, I'd say." Mr Lee said his business had now earned the name Bazil's Swimming Pool. For the third time in 10 years a social services agency in Westport has flooded, and today there was too much water for the fire service to pump out. Homebuilders Westport chief executive Lorraine Scanlon said she now felt apprehensive when the West Coast received a heavy downpour. She said any infrastructure system would have struggled to cope with the deluge that hit Westport overnight and this morning. Ms Scanlon said from the front door of Homebuilders Westport Trust, a charity that supports children and their parents, the flooding did not look too bad. But when she opened the door, the ankle-deep floodwater spilled out. Ms Scanlon said there had been many tears today as she and others from the agency come to terms with what has been lost.

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