MAGICAL MELODY: Stormy New Zealand    
 Stormy New Zealand
picture picture 17 Feb 2004 @ 17:06, by Alana Tobin

The winds were unusually strong that one night in Auckland, and then we heard the following reports. Wellington is about 10 Hours from Auckland.

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE: An image taken earlier this morning of floodwaters around Feilding.
MURRAY WILSON/Manawatu Standard

Picture of Floodwaters surround cattle in a milking yard on Whirokino Rd, near Foxton, yesterday (February 16, 2004)Picture/Mark Mitchell

3000ha of crops under threat following floods

Storm damage could cost up to $50 million
16 February 2004

Damage caused by the extreme winds and heavy rain across the North Island could cost as much as $50 million to fix, the Insurance Council says.

The massive storm which has caused floods in the Hutt Valley, north of Wellington and in the Rangitikei District, had probably caused the biggest flood damage in 25 years, the council said today.

Flooding in the Rangitikei district forced the evacuation of about 500 people in the towns of Feilding, Marton and Tangimoana. Local officials, who declared a state of emergency, said the flooding across the district was at a level that occurred only once every 50-100 years.

In the Hutt Valley about 150mm of rain fell in the 24 hours to 8am today, causing the Waiwhetu Stream to break its banks and forcing the evacuation of about 100 people from 50 homes.

Two men were missing presumed drowned as a result of the storm and an Auckland woman was seriously injured when a felled tree crashed through the roof of her North Shore home, pinning her to her bed.

One of the missing men failed to return from a night fishing trip on Wellington Harbour on Saturday, while the other disappeared after the launch he was on, the Rita, sank last night in high winds and monstrous swells near the entrance of the Marlborough Sounds. Three of his companions were rescued.

The storm, which caused winds of up to 160kmh in some areas, cut power to about 6500 people in Wanganui, Manawatu, Wairarapa and the Wellington region today. It also closed highways across the lower North Island and several schools and forced the cancellation of interisland ferry crossings and plane flights in some areas.

Insurance Council Chief Executive Chris Ryan said today staff estimated damage to the lower half of the North Island from the current floods was as high as $50 million.

Extensive flood damage claims were already coming into insurance companies from the Wellington region, particularly in central Wellington and Lower Hutt.

Flooding claims coming into other insurance companies throughout the North Island were also high, the most severely hit areas being Manawatu, Wairarapa and Wanganui, he said.

The damage caused by flooding could match that experienced in the historic 1976 Wellington floods.

Mr Ryan said the 1976 flood cost insurers the equivalent of $45 million in today's money.

He said people with flood-damaged property should not dispose of anything until it was inspected by insurers or loss adjusters.

However, property owners should ensure their drainage systems were not blocked, as further rain was forecast for Wednesday.

Mr Ryan said other measures homeowners could take to minimise damage from erratic weather patterns were clearing stormwater gutterings and debris from around their properties to ensure the water did not build up.

Wellington police were unable to continue their search for the 35-year-old man missing in Wellington Harbour today because of high winds. The man set off from Petone at 9pm on Monday night.

An Air Force Orion today discovered the 3.5m dinghy which the missing man in the Marlborough Sounds was believed to have been in after the Rita sank about 10.45pm last night near Cape Jackson. However, there was no trace of the man.

Three of his companions were rescued from a liferaft about 1.20am today from 9m swells and winds gusting above 120kmh.

Many parts of central Hawke's Bay were also hit by heavy rain, which caused flooding and some stock losses.

Some farmers complained that they had not received adequate warning from MetService forecasters.

The estimated cost of the extreme storm that has battered New Zealand has doubled to $100 million.

And the Insurance Council says up to a quarter of homeowners are likely to be uninsured.

Council chief executive Chris Ryan said that had "serious implications" for stricken towns as they start rebuilding after devastation caused by flooding.

Earlier, the council put the damage estimate at $50 million.

"We didn't want to overstate it, but with major infrastructure damage and losses from the big agricultural companies the costs are going to be fairly large," Mr Ryan said.

Non-insurance was a problem for everyone, but smaller provincial towns were likely to have lower insurance rates than cities, he said.

That was a "socio-economic" issue as houses often passed from one generation to the next without mortgages, which meant banks were not insisting on insurance.

Between 25 and 40 per cent of homes affected by the storm are likely to be uninsured, the council believes.

Mr Ryan said premiums were unlikely to rise overall as a result, although residents who had been flooded out for the second or third time could find companies unwilling to offer insurance.

Residents in flood-stricken areas yesterday began to assess damage from the one-in-40-year storm.

In Picton, a new emergency developed when 500 residents were evacuated because of fears that a dam would burst.

The Marlborough District Council declared a state of civil emergency because of the threat of the Barnes Dam in Essons Valley collapsing.

Earlier yesterday, about 40mm of rain fell in 40 minutes in Picton, causing flash flooding. Sewage leaked into the town's streets and harbour as a result of the flood.

Marlborough district civil defence spokesman Steve Jones said the Barnes Dam had been overflowing all morning.

"It's chocka with water and logs and all sorts of debris, and more water and more logs are still flowing into it."

Fears that the dam, which is 4.5km from Picton and 455m above sea level, would collapse eased last night.

Promised grants to mayoral relief funds from the Government were criticised yesterday.

National's Rangitikei MP, Simon Power, said the initial $20,000 grants to his region and Manawatu were "pathetic".

But Civil Defence Minister George Hawkins said more money would be given once it was known what was needed.

The flood-affected areas would get help once civil emergencies were over.

"Obviously, those areas will need help," Mr Hawkins said. "They will get help."

About 5000 homes in the lower North Island are still without full phone services.

Telecom said yesterday staff were working to restore services in Manawatu, Rangitikei and Horowhenua.

Progress was being hampered by continued flooding, which was creating difficulty for staff in gaining access to repair sites.

In Horowhenua, the Manawatu River breached its banks south of Foxton, 39km southwest of Palmerston North, inundating farmland and forcing the evacuation of about 50 people from a number of homes.

The areas most in danger of further flooding were Foxton Beach and parts of Foxton township near the Manawatu River.

Police yesterday advised people trapped by the flood waters to place white sheets on top of their houses where they could be seen from helicopters.

Officers said the measure was necessary because phone contact in much of Manawatu and Horowhenua had been knocked out by the storm.

Flood waters were beginning to recede yesterday, but other problems were emerging.

These included loss of phone lines and safe drinking water.

Civil defence co-ordinators called in watertankers to help alleviate the problem.

Access by road was still impossible in many areas because of high water and washed-out bridges, and schools in Bulls, Marton, Hunterville and surrounding rural areas remained closed.

Thousands of North Island homes were without power as lines company Powerco struggled to fix problems in Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu and Wairarapa.

Roads were closed in many parts of the Lower North Island, but most roads in the Wellington region had been reopened.

Interisland ferries, which stopped sailing across Cook Strait on Monday, were sailing again.

Interisland Line marketing and sales manager Peter Monk said sailings had cleared a backlog of ferry passengers by yesterday morning.

Stormy weather, stunning bills

1968: The Wahine storm causes $120 million worth of damage.

1976: Severe Wellington floods cost insurers the equivalent of $45 million.

1988: Cyclone Bola, $52 million.

2002: Weather bomb, $21 million.

2004: Cyclone Heta tears up Niue, causing up to $35 million worth of damage.

Source: Insurance Council (all figures inflation adjusted).



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