Numerous people have been evacuated after extreme rainfalls resulted in massive floods in New Zealand.
The flood incidents are more intense in South Island, where an immense 1 meter of precipitation in just 2,5 days, from 3-5 February 2020, was measured.
River banks were breached during the heavy rainfalls while landslides were reported. Infrastructure, mainly roadways, suffered critical damage. Under those circumstances, the Southland region declared a state of emergency. In particular, the Meteorological Service of New Zealand (MetService), issued a Red Weather Warning for the first time. The Red Warning alert was established in May 2019 and is activated only in extreme weather conditions, when severe ramifications are expected. It implies that authorities and citizens should immediately take measures to protect themselves and their properties from extreme weather.
“The difference between the orange and red warnings is the impact on people. We saw a road washed out, we saw people isolated. There was a real risk to communities given the impact on the roading network,” Lewis Ferris, Communications Meteorologist of MetService, stated.
Residents in the towns of Wyndham, Gore and Mataura, all located at low altitude, were evacuated as the Mataura river could breach any time soon. Moreover, there is an additional threat to the town of Mataura; the potential of the floodwater reaching a paper mill factory where a chemical substance that produces toxic gas when it reacts with water, is stored. The hazardous gas can be transferred through the water. Officials stated that, in this case, a dilution process that can mitigate its impact, will initiate.
In the affected areas, farmers were trying to move their flocks to higher ground using every means possible (e.g. kayaks or jet skis). According to Neville Cook, a civil defense official, some animals will inevitably perish. “There will be stock losses. Even with prior warning, there’s really nowhere they can go,” Cook stated.
About 200 people were rescued by helicopter missions as floods blocked the access to a local road in Milford. Currently, New Zealand Transport Agency is evaluating the conditions of bridges along Milford Route.
In addition, 2 people were injured near Milford Sound after a rainfall-induced landslide hit a small house.