Westland mayor Helen Lash said “everybody is on standby” as more than a month’s worth of rain is expected across the region over the next couple of days.

A red rainfall warning — the first of 2024 — was issued earlier today for the Westland District on the West Coast of the South Island. It began at 9am on Thursday and is expected to last until Saturday at 8am.

Current MetService modelling indicates an easing in rainfall tonight, but levels will increase tomorrow, with peak falls expected around midday.

Lash said agencies and first responders are mobilising to have people on the ground around the district tonight and tomorrow.

“It’s just a matter of crossing off those lists to make sure that everything is in place. Should it be needed, assistance and management is there.”

Between 600mm and 800mm of rain is expected to accumulate about the ranges, a similar amount to the March 2019 event which killed one person, washed away the Waiho Bridge near Franz Josef and resulted in $4.09m of insurance claims.

Stay off the roads

She said that the imminent rainfall “couldn’t happen at a worse time” for the tourist-dependent region, warning residents and tourists to stay off the roads.

“We don’t really want to put people out there trying to rescue people in the dark of night if they don’t need to be out there.

“The team is going to be out there making sure freedom campers aren’t parking up where they shouldn’t be parked.”

Lash said that the community is “superb” when it comes to weather events.

“They can just buckle down and do what they’ve got to do, but they know that there’s all the backup and support there with them.

“I know people get sick of the rain warnings and say ‘Oh, we got put on alert and nothing happens’. One day it will happen, and we need to make sure that everybody is safe and everybody is protected. I make no apologies to anybody for that.”

Westland District Council is preparing at least 500 sandbags for residents and businesses in Hokitika — identified as likely to flood during the rain event.

Operations manager Erle Bencich said, from previous experience, streets most likely to be affected included Revell St along the beachfront, Tancred St and Sewell St.

“We ask that people only take what they need to protect their properties.”

West Coast Emergency Management said that key agencies and groups met this afternoon to ensure strong connection and coordination.

“We are working with Westland District to activate an Emergency Operations Centre tomorrow,” said group manager Claire Brown.

Rivers around the district are being watched, with rises currently below first stage alarm levels.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is urging motorists to plan ahead and check the latest conditions before driving on the West Coast.

“Forecast rainfall totals in the region are significant, and may impact parts of the state highway network, including the possibility of surface flooding and debris on road surfaces.

“Given the severity of the forecast weather it may be necessary to close sections of the state highway network overnight on Friday due to the possibility of unsafe driving conditions.”

The Department of Conservation has closed some tracks in the Franz Josef area, with some camp grounds closed across the region tomorrow as a precaution.

Orange rain warnings are also in place for the Grey District and Fiordland until Saturday morning and Friday night, respectively.