NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has toured flood-devastated areas of the country’s South Island, where months of rain has fallen in just three days.
“A big clean-up job lies ahead of us,” Ms Ardern said at a briefing later on Tuesday.
She travelled from Christchurch to Ashburton by helicopter, and broadcasted images of flooded fields on her Instagram account.
“Devastating to see what communities will be dealing with for sometime to come,” she wrote.
“We’ll have a chance to meet with some of the local leaders shortly to see how we can help support them.”
There has been widespread flooding in Canterbury region, closing the national highway and cutting off much of the South Island.
There have been widespread rescues across the region, with the New Zealand military brought in to assist.
Ashburton bridge, south of Christchurch, has been shut amid fears of major damage after the local mayor said drivers felt the road move under their cars.
“There’s definitely a slump in there,” Neil Brown told news outlet Stuff.
“I visually can see a slump. It’s in major damage.”
Engineers expect the bridge, over the Ashburton River or Hakatere, to be out of action for days.
Its closure has cut the town of Ashburton in two and also cut off one of the main road routes between Christchurch and regions further south, including Queenstown and Dunedin.
Railway tracks have also been affected by the flooding, adding to fears supermarkets in New Zealand’s south face looming shortages because of the road and rail damage.
“The affected area of the Main South Line is expected to be closed until at least Sunday,” KiwiRail’s South Island operations general manager Mark Heissenbuttel told Stuff.
“We still have to carry out full assessments of the work that needs to be done, so the timings of the re-openings are subject to change.”
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said 200 to 400 per cent of the May average rainfall had fallen in Canterbury in the past three days.
Lismore, near Ashburton, received the same amount of rain in three days as had in the past six months.
“[The floods] have come on top of a prolonged period of low rainfall and near-drought conditions,” climate scientist James Renwick at Victoria University of Wellington said.
“This is unfortunately what we expect to see with climate change.”
Farmers and landowners have told Kiwi media outlets of their devastation.