Evacuations are underway on New Zealand’s South Island after hundreds of tourists became stranded in severe floods and heavy rain.
A state of emergency was declared on Monday with 382 people trapped in the Fiordland region, including visitors and staff at a lodge and on tourist boats at the visitor hotspot of Milford Sound.
“They have plenty of food and are safe and warm,” Emergency Management Southland controller Angus McKay McKay said on Monday.
The visitors were unable to leave after the only road leading to one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations was damaged by torrential rain on Sunday and Monday.
On Tuesday, TVNZ reported a landslide hit the Howden Hut, near Fiordland’s Lake Howden, at 1.30am (local time), leaving two people with minor injuries. They had been walking a days-long track.
Emergency Management Southland said 31 people at the hut were safe and awaiting evacuation. There are thought to be about 100 people stuck at other huts in the region.
On Tuesday, helicopters started evacuating people from huts in Hollyford, Pyke, Big Bay and Martin’s Bay.
There are another 195 tourists stranded in Milford Sound. They will have to remain there until Wednesday.
“Weather conditions and road closures mean it is best to keep the tourists in Milford until they can be safely transported out,” Emergency Management Southland wrote on Facebook.
“Meanwhile, roads are closed throughout Southland and rivers are rising.”
The evacuations come after torrential rain brought slips and floods that have cut road access to popular tourist destinations for several days.
Metservice meteorologist Andy Best told NZ website Stuff that more than a metre of rain had fallen at Milford Sound in the 60 hours to 10am on Wednesday.
Conditions are forecast to improve slightly in coming days, but many roads are expected to remain closed for some days.
🔺Red Warning Update🔺
Over 1 metre of rain has fallen in Milford Sound in 60 hours. The worst is over for them but the heaviest rain is now moving up Westland. Plenty of other Severe Weather Watches and Warnings are in force so stay up to date at https://t.co/qHyE5zhh6X ^Lewis pic.twitter.com/oOKOEhpf4R
— MetService (@MetService) February 3, 2020
The spectacular fjord on the west coast of the south island was carved out by ancient glaciers and features towering mountains, waterfalls, and rare marine habitats.