Thousands of residents in South Island, New Zealand, were forced to evacuate their homes on Wednesday morning, February 5, 2020, after severe flooding hit the region, prompting officials to declare a state of emergency. The severe weather also left hundreds of tourists stranded at Milford Sound on Monday, February 3.
More than 1 000 mm (39 inches) of rainfall fell in 60 hours, causing rivers to overflow.
Residents in the low-lying areas of Gore and Mataura were forced to evacuate promptly on early Wednesday as floodwaters in the Mataura river worsened. Those further downstream in Wyndham were also urged to flee.
"We have issued notices to evacuate and to prepare to evacuate to 6 000 people across the region," said a spokeswoman for the Emergency Management Southland (EMS).
Furthermore, citizens were reminded to pack medication, clothing, and identification as they were told to move to higher grounds.
As a precaution, the power to affected areas was interrupted, while evacuation centers were put up in schools and local churches.
In Milford Sound, floodwaters damaged the only road to the fiord, which is a famous hiking spot, especially for international tourists. Around 200 trapped people were airlifted to neighboring Te Anau.
.#Inundaciones | Al menos 382 personas se encuentran atrapadas este lunes en la zona del fiordo de Milford Sound, en el suroeste de Nueva Zelanda, a causa de la inundación provocada por marea alta y fuertes lluvias.— ESPECIGEST (@ESPECIGEST) February 5, 2020
@Notimex_TV #EG #Georiesgos pic.twitter.com/CUBRGViiVk
D'importantes inondations touchent la Nouvelle-Zélande, la population évacuée pic.twitter.com/03ryY16Gxu— BFMTV (@BFMTV) February 5, 2020
"The tourists have been well catered for," said EMS. "Morale has been high amongst the visitors and staff, as they received regular briefings and have been in contact with friends and family."
A landslide was reported at Routeburn walking track, which hit a hut and injured two people. Both received treatment at the scene for minor injuries.
Later on Wednesday, Gore residents have been allowed by the civil defense to return to their homes. However, Wyndham locals were told to stay evacuated likely until Thursday, February 6, as the last surge of water is still ongoing.
"Gore did an amazing job, they evacuated earlier this morning. It looks like we dodged a bullet there, the river defenses have held pretty much so we're hoping later on this afternoon once we've done an inspection we're looking promising for letting people back into Gore," said EMS controller Angus McKay.
"Mataura we're really on a watch and wait, and the same for Wyndham which is a bit further downstream. They're our kind of urban areas, it's fair to say we've got a lot of water in the rural areas. We've really got a few days ahead of us to assess all the damage around the rural areas and how we can help people deal with that."
While the south was drenched, contrasting weather was experienced farther north as a scorching temperature of 40 °C (104 °F) was recorded in Te Karaka on Tuesday, February 4, according to Weather Watch. A heatwave from Australia was the reason behind the sweltering temperature, pushing hot air over the North Island.
Just had further confirmation of the 40 degree temperature reached inland west of #Gisborne yesterday.— WeatherWatch.co.nz (@WeatherWatchNZ) February 3, 2020
This data map from @ibmnz shows Monday's daytime highs in all our valleys & main centres - the small pink dot at Te Karaka near Gisborne represents 40C!#Weather #NewZealand pic.twitter.com/VWcTz4aayI
Featured image credit: EMS