The mayor of a New Zealand city devastated by flooding said on Friday that it will take years to recover, as hundreds more homes were evacuated. The Pacific nation has been battered by wild weather, with the Nelson-Tasman district on the South Island bearing the brunt of 75 centimetres (29 inches) of rain falling over three days.
Several streets in Nelson were flooded after the Maitai River burst its banks. Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese stated that the damage to roads and infrastructure will take ‘years, not months’ to repair. She added that it was ‘critical’ that Nelson residents conserve water because the city’s supply had been disrupted by a landslide that damaged the main line from the local reservoir.
During a visit to assess the damage, New Zealand’s Minister for Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty, pledged $200,000 ($125,000) in aid and confirmed that more than 400 homes have been evacuated in Nelson, where a state of emergency remains in effect. Flooding and landslides have rendered 60 homes potentially uninhabitable, he says.
One of the most striking things McAnulty saw was a street in a housing development ‘where the road had just been washed out, (leaving) a crater deeper than I am tall,’ he told reporters. Nelson resident Paul Maskell said he was alerted to the rising water on his street by a neighbour. ‘ It was a foot deep in water when I returned, with boulders running down the road. It was strange, ‘he explained.
After his home was threatened by flooding, firefighters had to winch an elderly resident recovering from surgery to safety late Thursday night. The South Island of New Zealand was bracing for more heavy rain, but other parts of the country were not spared. New Plymouth experienced its wettest August day since records began, with 10 centimetres falling in 12 hours.
‘More than a metre of rain has fallen, causing significant flows down all rivers,’ Taranaki Civil Defence controller Todd Velvin said, citing flooding, road closures, and fallen trees as issues. Flooding and landslides cut off Kaitaia, a town near the top of North Island, and around 400 homes in the far north were left without power.
According to experts, human-caused climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts, and flooding. The heavy rain was caused by an ‘atmospheric river,’ according to Daniel Kingston, senior geography lecturer at the University of Otago. ‘It’s safe to say that climate change is most likely playing a role,’ Kingston told AFP.