‘To the brink’ and back again

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JOHN COSGROVE and RICHARD DAVISON

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan praised the combined efforts of South Otago authorities and communities, after some of the worst flooding in 20 years last week.

Despite widespread surface flooding, road closures and disruptions to water supplies, the region had “dodged a bullet” thanks to the “sophisticated and co-ordinated” actions of emergency services, civil defence, and “the majority” of the public, Mr Cadogan said.

“There were moments in the middle of Tuesday night when things had the potential to become catastrophic, but we went to the brink and, fortunately, came back again.”

On Wednesday last week, the Clutha River reached its highest level since 1999, as flows reached a peak of 2720cumecs.

Sightseers seized the opportunity to record the historic event from the safety of the Balclutha Bridge and floodbanks, as the rising river almost spilled into the Barnego area of the town.

Elsewhere in the district, four vehicle occupants came to grief after trying to navigate flooded roads in three separate incidents, two in Kelso and one in Lovells Flat.

All were rescued by fire crews without further incident, but drew criticism from authorities, including Mr Cadogan, who described those ignoring road closure signs as “galoots”.

At the peak of the flooding, more than 30 roads were closed throughout the district, and several town and rural water schemes were also affected.

State Highway 1 to Milton’s south was down to one lane on Tuesday night and during Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, the Clutha District Council issued an urgent call for Tapanui to conserve water.

Calculations by council staff showed the township was not conserving water, and that it could run out within hours if residents did not take action.

The situation was later resolved successfully.

Earlier this week, the council said water conservation orders had been lifted in most areas, but residents on the Balmoral 1, 2 and Tuapeka East water schemes should continue to conserve water as repairs were ongoing.

As of Monday, people were being told to boil water in affected areas including North Bruce (including Tokoiti), Glenkenich, North Richardson, Tuapeka West, Evans Flat, Waihola, Stirling township, Benhar, Cherry Lane and South Bruce.

A CDC spokeswoman said the true cost of flood damage to Tapanui’s water system and district roads had yet to be established because of the large amount of standing water and water levels were still receding.

The Pounawea Jetty has been closed for public use until further notice because of flood damage, and six roads are still closed.

The floods also demonstrated how people quickly come together to help out in a crisis.

South Otago Aero Club president Steven Bamford said he was grateful club members came out in the heavy rain and helped elevate all the aircraft stored in its hangar in Balclutha.

“We were closely watching the rising river levels and about 4pm on the Tuesday afternoon we had a ring around and a dozen members came down to help secure the planes.”

He said members built a ramp system then everyone got stuck in and pushed the four aircraft on to stacks of wooden pallets to elevate them above the rising water.

“The wheels got a wee bit wet but that’s better than the whole plane.”

The four light aircraft were a mixture of aero club and privately owned aircraft, and all were fine.

Mr Bamford said this was the first time he had seen the aircraft elevated like that.

“We haven’t lost anything, everyone pitched in and helped, and we are very grateful.”

He said the airport would now operate under a Notam aviation notice because of the boggy conditions on the runway, advising anyone coming there to be careful and aware of the risks of operating from a sodden airfield.

The concern for the club now is how its 18ha of soon-to-be harvested grass has fared under the deluge of floodwater.

“It has possibly been ruined and that was a big part of our annual fundraising to support the various club activities,” Mr Bamford said.

Check the Clutha District Council website, cluthadc.govt.nz, for any boil water notices, road closures or notifications about road and driving conditions in your area.