New Zealand govt declares state of emergency as torrential rain leaves Canterbury reeling

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Tuesday, June 01, 2021, 04:42 PM IST
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An aerial view taken from a New Zealand Defence Force helicopter on June 1, 2021 shows the small settlement of Selwyn Huts surrounded by floodwaters after heavy rains washed away bridges and cut roads in the Canterbury region. | Photo: AFP

The New Zealand government has declared a state of emergency for the region of Canterbury after torrential rain led to flooding and even damaged a major bridge that connected the town of Ashburton to the main highway south. Now, as floodwaters recede, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, with loss and damage to property and debris spread across farmers' fields.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern undertook aerial surveys and told reporters that the administration's top priority was getting transport links working again, although it was unclear how long it would take to fix the bridge that connects the town of Ashburton to the main highway south. Crews hoped to have an alternate route to the town ready by the end of the day.

As much as 40 centimeters (16 inches) of rain fell over three days in the Canterbury region, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and the government to allocate 500,000 New Zealand dollars (USD 364,000) toward cleanup efforts. Over the last few days, several hundred people were evacuated from their homes and schools were closed during the flooding. The military helped evacuate more than 50 people, including several in an NH-90 military helicopter.

"It is quite devastating in some areas," Ardern said. Visuals shared on her Instagram handle show large swathes of land covered in water and debris. A truck driver was killed Monday when a tree fell on the truck, although it wasn't immediately clear if flooding or rain was a factor.

One man was clinging to a tree near the town of Darfield when he jumped into floodwaters and tried to swim to safety but was swept away, the military said. Helicopter crews scoured the water for 30 minutes before finding the man and plucking him to safety. The military helicopter was also used to rescue an elderly couple from the roof of their car. Another man was rescued by a civilian helicopter pilot Sunday after he was swept from his farm as he tried to move his stock to safety.

(With inputs from agencies)

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