Parts of New Zealand’s upper North Island have received more than a month’s rain in 11 hours — a one-in-100-year event — from a weather system dubbed the Tasman Tempest.
And there’s more to come, according to Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll.
By noon today Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty recorded 340mm of rain in 12 hours. That is more than 150 per cent of the normal rainfall for the entire month of March, Noll said, and a one-in-100-year accumulation of 260mm in less than three hours.
Even greater falls were recorded across the Coromandel.
The region has been cut off with several highways flooded or affected by slips. At one stage more than 6000 homes were without power but it was restored by the evening.
Neil Munro of Hunua, a rural area southeast of Auckland, told how he was driving to work around 6am today when his car was washed off the road.
“It was pitch black and just before I realised there was flood water there … I tried to reverse but my car was already floating and it turned 180 degrees and the current washed me over the road and into willow trees.
“There was water up to the window … I couldn’t get out.”
Munro says his car electronics cut out. His doors locked up and he couldn’t get the windows down.
“I thought this was how I’m going to die … there were no other cars around.
“I tried kicking the driver’s window out and I couldn’t … I just kept flicking the ignition on and off.”
Munro finally managed to get the ignition on and escaped through the window with water up to his waist.
He says he never panicked but went into “survival mode”.
He went home to “change clothes and have a cup of tea” and “got the shakes a bit knowing how serious it could have been”.
Civil defence, the army and local residents helped evacuate a number of schoolchildren from a nearby adventure camp.
In the Coromandel township of Whiritoa, people were stranded in cars and residents evacuated from homes to the local surf club.
Nearby Whangamata residents had phone outages, limited petrol and wastewater issues after the deluge hammered their beachside town.
The Waikato Rescue Helicopter was dispatched to Thames Hospital to retrieve a woman in labour.
“There’s people stuck in the Ramarama Hills because they can’t get out by road and there’s people stuck in Golden Valley,” a fire service spokesperson said.
“We rescued a couple of people out of vehicles.”
Two other houses in the nearby township of Onemana were damaged by a slip. The residents have all been accounted for and relocated.
Two houses in Tairua have been evacuated and residents of six to 10 homes in Kaiaua are being looked after by friends and family.
In Pauanui all road access is closed and the town is severely flooded, the regional council said.
At Maratoto Valley a group of college students at a camp were evacuated to Paeroa War Memorial Hall. There are also reports of 20 campers at a Department of Conservation campground in Wentworth Valley.
Thames, Mercury Bay and Coromandel Town areas have also been affected.
At this stage no homes have been evacuated but Civil Defence is preparing for this. A number of schools and businesses around the Coromandel were closed, generally because school buses and cars couldn’t use flooded roads.
Waikato police are urging people to avoid any unnecessary travel around the Coromandel Peninsula.
Tomorrow, heavy rain is forecast to hit the north of the country again. It’s possible there will be a rain dump of more than 500mm in parts of the Coromandel.
Heavy rain will return to Northland and Auckland late tonight and continue through to Friday.
There is an increased risk of thunderstorms with wind gusts from late Friday through to Saturday over most of the North Island.
The Tasman Tempest is moving closer to New Zealand, possibly passing over the country on Sunday or Monday, causing more downpours.
Looking further ahead, the weather is expected to settle across most of the country by the middle of next week. By next weekend, Kiwis could be back at the beach.