Rural communities isolated after destructive storm

By Christine McKay

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A major washout between Alfredton and Tiraumea following last week's storm. Photo / Supplied
A major washout between Alfredton and Tiraumea following last week's storm. Photo / Supplied

With a bridge washed out to the east and a major drop-out to his west, Wimbledon farmer Brian Hales is isolated, following last week's storm in Tararua.

"It is very quiet, no traffic, no noise, just me," he told the Dannevirke News Sunday night.

And while his Wimbledon farm was hit by "quite a bit of rain, but nothing out of the ordinary", Mr Hales woke late last week to the most snow he had seen in his lifetime in the district.

Wimbledon farmer Brian Hales has no access to the outside world after last week's storm.
Wimbledon farmer Brian Hales has no access to the outside world after last week's storm.

"There was thick, sleety snow everywhere, even in around the woolshed and boy was it cold," he said. "Then the heavy rain, combined with the snow thawing caused the rivers to rise rapidly, threatening to do damage. However, once the rain eased the rivers quickly receded."

Read more: Weather tipped to turn to heavy downfalls later in week
Storm leaves trail of destruction across Tararua District

Mr Hales said apart from a few tracks scouring and a few slips, damage on the farm had only been moderate.

The Puketoi Ranges east of Dannevirke covered in a thick dumping of snow last Thursday afternoon. Photo / Christine McKay
The Puketoi Ranges east of Dannevirke covered in a thick dumping of snow last Thursday afternoon. Photo / Christine McKay

"However, the ground has had the best soaking for years and it wouldn't take much rain to trigger erosion on a damaging scale," he said.

That heavy rain and melting snow has left a major trail of destruction across the Tararua roading network, closing Route 52 in two places.

A major washout was revealed on Route 52 near Saunder Rd in southern rural Tararua, while the abutment at Cochranes Bridge between Weber and Wimbledon has been washed out. In Tiraumea, possible solutions are being urgently investigated to reopen Saunders Rdy, with a temporary Bailey bridge as one option.

Council estimates 50 rural households are directly affected in the south.

"The situation is very worrying. We took a hammering," Tararua District mayor Tracey Collis said. "We are so water-logged."

Mrs Collis said the Bailey bridge required would need to span 40m and already Tararua Alliance crews have been working to restore areas where slips and trees had come down.

"Our district has been hit from south to north and that's one of our challenges," she said. "At Akitio there were high winds, rough seas and no electricity. In Dannevirke it snowed and in the south there was flooding from the heavy rain. We are fortunate Tararua Alliance has equipment both north and south."

Both closures will result in the need for road users to take diversions, adding significant travel time to their journeys, including school buses once school returns next week.

While many farmers in the south were dealing with saturated paddocks, poor grass growth, and a high water table, up a metre on the level recorded for this time last year, Mr Hales said his district has had exceptional grass growth up to this point.

"While the cold will stunt the growth, the lowering of soil temperatures will help to eliminate unwanted bugs for the remainder of winter," he said.

And although Wimbledon lost electricity for 10 hours at the height of the storm, Mr Hales said this caused him no stress.

"We are well geared up to cope in such situations. I can only admire those linesmen who restored the situation in such horrendous conditions."

Last week Mr Hales cancelled his woolshed felting programme because of the snow and he has now had to cancel the replacement day this Thursday.

"Here's my woolshed, beautifully prepared to host 30 people for the workshop. It would have been buzzing with chatter and enjoyment, but it is now a silent monument, reminding me that nature is my director," he said. "This will test my mental and physical survival."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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