Weather chaos: People stranded as flights cancelled, roads cut off

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 8 Dec 2019, 9:11AM
Travellers at Queenstown Airport are facing delays. (Photo / Supplied)
Travellers at Queenstown Airport are facing delays. (Photo / Supplied)

Weather chaos: People stranded as flights cancelled, roads cut off

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 8 Dec 2019, 9:11AM

Horrendous weather is expected to lash most of New Zealand today as major highways in the South Island remain closed and a state of emergency is declared in some areas due to intense downpours.

The severe weather has also led to mass flight cancellations throughout the country. 

An Auckland man missed his partner's daughter's birthday and was forced to sleep in his car overnight after bad weather severed access to the airport.

Auckland resident Dan brought the last sleeping bag from The Warehouse last night, and bunkered down in his car in Geraldine, unable to reach Christchurch Airport, where he was due to fly to Auckland the following morning. "All of the hotels in the area were full," he says.

"It's a weird feeling to not have internet," he says, "completely cut off".

He wasn't able to contact anyone—including Jetstar, the airline he was booked on.
He finally reached Jetstar at 7.30am, an hour after his flight had departed, and told them the situation.

"They said there was nothing they could do and to talk to the people at the airport," Dan says, frustrated the airline is refusing to change his flight. "Pretty disappointing."

He says it's a "sit and wait" situation until the roads are reopened. Dan says he's expecting to have to buy another flight to get home.

Jetstar did not respond to requests for comment, but it outlines its rebooking policy on its website.

"We are committed to getting you to your destination on time, however sometimes bad weather, natural disasters, technical problems, operational and other issues can cause flight delays and cancellations," it reads.

Jetstar says it will provide assistance in the event of a delay or cancellation.

Air New Zealand has so far cancelled two return services between Queenstown and Auckland, but is offering rebooking options to impacted customers, and looking into options for additional services to affected regions.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson says the cancelled flights are due to a Spark network outage in Queenstown. Queenstown Airport's website says due to the Spark network outage it can't display any flight information data.

In a travel update sent out to some passengers, Air New Zealand said it is also experiencing issues with check-in kiosks at Queenstown Airport and check-ins may need to be processed manually.

Travel across the South Island has been badly disrupted. Photo / Supplied

Travel across the South Island has been badly disrupted. Photo / Supplied

"Due to extreme weather conditions in the South Island and the subsequent Spark Communications Network Outage affecting the area, Air New Zealand encourages all passengers booked on affected flights today to call our contact centre on 0800 737 000 for rebooking," an Air New Zealand spokesperson says.

Air New Zealand says a large number of passengers are impacted and those calling in can expect increased wait times.

One woman who contacted the New Zealand Herald by using the internet at Timaru Airport, says over 50 people are on a waiting list for private flights to Christchurch Airport, in a bid to get home.

12.30pm

Police have confirmed that State Highway 72 near Arundel in the South Island remains closed due to flooding.

State Highway 1 is also closed.

Work is being down to try clear the roads however due to the massive job the roads will be closed for the coming days.

Motorists are asked to avoid the area.

10.20am

Spark has confirmed "almost all" of the impacted South Island broadband, mobile and landline services have now been restored.

"This has been achieved by a work-around using spare fibre strands and additional cables," Spark posted on Twitter.

"While the restoration of services is good news, it's important to note services are still vulnerable as they are reliant on a damaged cable, which could be affected by moving weather conditions.

"Our team will continue to monitor the situation and share further updates ASAP."

9.30am

Chorus have given further information on the faults on the network throughout the South Island impacting broadband, landline and cellphone coverage.

All of the retail internet service providers, such as Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and Vocus use Chorus' wholesale network for their landline service.

"In particular, the main areas impacted are in Geraldine and Ashburton," said a Chorus spokesperson.

"A section of fibre has also been damaged in Fox Glacier on the West Coast following a large slip.

"Repair work is already underway in many areas however, due to slips and flooding, technicians are not currently allowed to access some areas due to the current State of Emergency.

"Technicians are ready to start repair work in these restricted areas just as soon as they are given permission from officials.

"Chorus apologises to those impacted by the outages and is working as quickly as possible to get services back up and running."

9.03am

Just before 8am Spark confirmed staff were at two locations where fibre cables had been cut.

Technicians are testing replacement cables.

"We'll be updated as soon as anything changes and will let you know as soon as we are aware. Thanks for your patience," the company posted on Twitter.

Last night Spark advised that customers were experiencing broadband and mobile outages due to flooding and slips across the South Island.

"Unfortunately, our technicians cannot access the area due to road closures as a result of weather conditions.

"Our team is working hard to resolve the situation and we apologise to our customers for the inconvenience. We will share more information with you as soon as possible."

A Fire and Emergency spokesperson says they've had about 25 flooding-related calls in Wellington since about 6am.

The weather conditions have forced police to cancel a planned firearms collection event at the Kennell Club in Porirua.

"Because of flooding causing road closures many of our staff are unable to get to the event to man it," said a police spokesperson.

"Some staff will be at the Kennel Club this morning to advise people who do make it there, that the event has been cancelled.

"We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused."

State Highway 58 is closed due to a crash, landslips and debris obstructing the route.

State Highway 2 northbound of Kelson and State Highway One at Plimmerton are closed due to flooding.

The firearms collection event in Porirua has also been cancelled due to the weather.

8.30am

Internet is not the only thing cut off in the south.

State Highway 1 has been closed, cutting off the main route between Christchurch and Dunedin, and residents in Timaru were told to evacuate as the local river rose to dangerous levels for the first time in 20 years.

The Timaru District Council this morning confirmed the SH1 Bridge at Rangitata will remain closed this morning.

"NZTA are inspecting but access is still limited so it's unlikely it will open in the near future," said a spokesperson.

"SH72 will remain closed until further notice, there's significant water and damage to the approaches, so we are unable to inspect the bridge at this point."

The closures are likely to cause havoc for many road users.

And for the rest of the country, the weather hell is not over yet.

6am

The slow-moving front responsible for the carnage will this morning stall over central New Zealand, bringing the risk of more heavy rain to parts of the North and South Islands, MetService meteorologist Cameron Coutts said.

A cluster of thunderstorms hit Wellington overnight, sending residents to social media to share photos and video of the impressive light show.

Aucklanders can expect isolated showers, more widespread from midday, with thunderstorms and possible downpours.

Then, there will be northwesterlies, strong in exposed places, from afternoon.

For all of the North Island apart from Gisborne and Hawke's Bay, scattered showers are expected, along with some heavy with thunderstorms, hail and possible downpours.

In Gisborne and Hawke's Bay the situation will also be grim with rain about the ranges, possibly heavy and thundery.

An scattered showers should start spreading east of the Hawke's Bay ranges from the afternoon.

There was an orange-level heavy rain alert, with possible thunderstorms warning for Westland, from Otira south, in the 10 hours to 11am today.

Heavy rain watches are in place today across a large swathe of the central and lower North Island, and parts of Nelson and Marlborough.

But of particular concern was the risk of more downpours in Canterbury, with a heavy rain watch issued for the headwaters of Canterbury lakes and rivers about and south of Rakaia River, in the nine hours to 11am today, Coutts said.

Yesterday afternoon, Timaru District Council told all those living between McLelland, Orion Rangitata Mouth roads and Rangitata River to evacuate immediately.

The order was given after a one-in-20-year flooding of the Rangitata River blocked off State Highway 1, with the water coming down the river peaking at 2700 cubic metres per second, Timaru Emergency Operations Centre's Steven Doran said.

"The river usually runs at about 300 [cu m/s) so it's a big, big difference. It's a braided river so it doesn't always flow in the same path as well. So it can change path, and a lot of farmland can be in the way as well."

The flooding near Timaru, and also on the West Coast, blocked off all road routes between Christchurch and Dunedin yesterday and overnight. State Highway 1 and Route 72 between Ashburton and Timaru are closed in both directions.

State Highway 6 on the South Island's West coast was closed from Hokitika down to Makarora, with several slips on the road. Settlements on the highway were cut off from each other because of the damage.

More than 350km of the highway was shut because of the slips and a bridge washout, New Zealand Transport Agency system manager Pete Connors told RNZ.

"The real problem we've got is between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef - on what we call the Fox Hills ... there's been some pretty substantial slips."

He didn't know how long it would take to repair the roads.

Power was also out from Fox Glacier to Paringa, and was likely to remain so for a couple of days.

A spokesperson for Westpower said the lines company was working with Civil Defence and roading authorities to find out when they could get in to replace downed power poles.

Meanwhile, in Wanaka yesterday, sandbags and black plastic sheets were covering the fronts of most businesses along Ardmore St and Queenstown Lakes District Council shut down the street's sewerage system amid fears of Lake Wanaka flooding.

Yesterday afternoon lake levels remained about 25cm below the flood alert threshold.

Today would be unsettled across much of the country, Coutts said.

Thunderstorms were possible in the upper North Island, including in Auckland and Hamilton.

But a cool change on Monday, and especially Tuesday, would start to turn the tap off.

"The whole country's going to be [experiencing temperatures] below average on Monday as the southerlies start to push across the country.

"Tuesday's looking pretty good for most of the country as finally we get rid of the northwesterlies."

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Cherie Howie