Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters the 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.
Ardern said farmers had been particularly hard hit with lost feed, broken fences and debris spread across their fields. She said that seeing the damage from the air had shown her the scale of what had happened.
“It is quite devastating in some areas,” she said. “There’s a lot of work for us to do, alongside farmers, to support them in their recovery. A big cleanup job lies ahead of us.”
Still, there was some relief that the flooding didn’t get bad enough to cause major damage to homes or result in more casualties. 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.
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 ($364,000) toward cleanup efforts.
Several hundred people were told to leave 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.
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.
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