Worst rain in 24 years: Floods, parasite woes befall Queenstown

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Wellington: A slow-moving storm has dumped 300 millimetres of rain on parts of New Zealand’s South Island, unleashing floods, landslides and a state of emergency for Queenstown which was already reeling from an outbreak of cryptosporidium.

The country’s biggest tourist town was soaked by the biggest single-day rainfall in 24 years: 87 millimetres in the 24 hours to 9am on Friday.

Heavy rains caused “several flooding and debris events”, according to Queenstown Lakes mayor Glyn Lewers who asked people not to take to the roads.

“The current weather event is an active and evolving situation,” he said.

The Mataura River in northern Southland, New Zealand, broke its banks.Credit: Guy Dowding/StuffNZ

“We have been working with emergency management throughout the night to assess the full extent of the situation in the current conditions.”

Social media posts show streets overcome with mud, logs and forestry run-off from the nearby hill near the base of the famous Skyline Gondola.

Residents and tourists were advised to avoid the town centre, with an evacuation centre set up at St Peters Church. More than 100 people were evacuated overnight.

“If travel is essential, then please take extreme care,” Lewers said.

Taine Donnelly removes sand bags at St Peters College in Gore, NZ, after the flood on Friday.Credit: Kavinda Herath/StuffNZ

Lewers issued the state of emergency on Friday, following a similar declaration in the nearby town of Gore, and in Southland on Thursday.

Gore received 102mm of rain overnight, with dozens of volunteer firefighters and locals called in to place sandbags to save properties from flooding.

Mt Cook Village received 120mm in an unseasonally hefty dump.

The downpour was expected to ease later on Friday. Forecaster Metservice issued warnings for snow to low altitudes across Otago and the Canterbury Plains.

Queenstown Skyline gondola was closed on Friday due to slips and debris.Credit: Debbie Jamieson/Stuff

A number of highways in the region are closed, though the road to Milford Sound which received 318mm on Thursday, has reopened.

While no injuries have been reported, further damage could follow.

Rivers in the region, including the Mataura River – a legendary waterway for brown trout fishing – were expected to peak later on Friday.

The nearby Waikaia River has burst its banks, affecting farmland.

Flooding on the Mataura River in northern Southland.Credit: Guy Dowding/StuffNZ

The flooding and landslips follow an outbreak of the parasite cryptosporidium in Queenstown.

At least 18 cases of the highly infectious bug have been identified this week after complaints of stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Social media posts suggest a more widespread problem.

While the origin of the outbreak is yet to be confirmed, public health authorities have issued a boil water notice as a precaution.

The national water regulator has issued a compliance order on Queenstown Lakes Council’s Two Mile treatment plant for not having an appropriate parasite filter.

Lewers said a fix that could prompt the regulator to lift the boil water notice was still a way off.

“A best case [scenario] would be months … to get the kit to here and install it, it could take some time,” he said.

“We have to take a risk management approach.”

Radio NZ reported local businesses were resorting to bringing in water from nearby lakes to keep their coffee machines running.


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