Canterbury flooding: Full extent of damage beginning to emerge as rain finally stops

The full toll of Canterbury’s hundred-year flood is starting to emerge as the rain today finally stopped and the sun came out.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was given an aerial tour in an NZDF helicopter of the “devastating” flooding which has caused widespread damage to bridges, roads, farms, houses and garages, and resulted in military intervention and hundreds of evacuations.

The State Highway 1 bridge over the swollen Ashburton River – which was earlier feared could breach its stopbanks – was closed suddenly this morning after motorists reported “slumping”.

Its closure cut off the Mid Canterbury hub town of Ashburton while engineers hurriedly worked to examine the extent of the bridge’s damage.

Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said it would likely take more than a few days to fix.

And it’s been an anxious wait for locals stranded by the bridge’s closure.

Ashburton jeweller Mark Douglas said his daughter is stuck across the river in Tinwald, and her partner is booked in for scheduled shoulder surgery in Christchurch on Thursday.

“There’s probably a little bit of disbelief. We’re just trying to work on a Plan A and a Plan B,” he said.

After Ardern’s chopper tour, she touched down back in Christchurch to tell media that the major focus was in getting transport links back up and running.

“It is quite devastating – there is a lot of work to do,” she said, calling the weather event a “one in 100-year flood”.

“A big clean up job lies ahead of us.”

Authorities hoped an Ashburton detour route would be reopened by tonight.

But it wasn’t just the region’s road network that took a battering, with railway tracks also suffering.

The worst damage is south of Ashburton, where the line over Orari River has slumped, and a second bridge at Temuka has had one of its spans smashed sideways by river debris.

It will take at least a week before that southern section of track is reopened, KiwiRail chief executive Todd Moyle said.

The Midland Line from Christchurch to the West Coast also suffered washouts, with up to nine sections needing urgent repairs – and that could take three to four days, Moyle said.

Private helicopter firms have been flying people across cut-off areas to help them get supplies and supermarkets have warned that there could be some empty shelves for a while.

Most evacuation orders have now been lifted but Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said while Canterbury weather conditions have mostly eased, rivers would remain swollen for some time and locals were reminded that floodwaters will take time to recede.

The Government has declared the flooding as an “adverse event” for Canterbury, announcing that $500,000 in funding can now be unlocked for farmers and growers.

“This is a medium adverse weather event; that means the funding can flow through to those directly on the ground to support the farmers who have been heavy hit,” Ardern said this afternoon.

“We want to be practical support to aid the recovery.”

Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor said they would “continue to assess whether further support is required as the full extent of the flooding becomes clearer”.

“About 400mm of rain has fallen on parts of the region, causing widespread flooding and significant damage to property and the road network,” he said.

“It’s putting further pressure on farmers who have been battling drought and we’re committed to helping them get through.”

Other recovery measures being considered include an Enhanced Taskforce Green work programme to assist with clean-up and recovery, Rural Assistance Payments to help farmers with essential living costs, and flexibility through the Income Equalisation Scheme.

MPI is working closely with Civil Defence Emergency Management staff, industry groups and others to help with the recovery effort, including the animal welfare response.

“Support is available for farmers who are short of livestock feed, or who have had baleage and fodder crops washed away or damaged by floodwaters,” O’Connor said.

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