Evening Post
November 17, 1999

State of Emergency in Alexandra

Civil Defence has declared a state of emergency in Alexandra, as floodwaters reached near-record levels in central Otago today.

"It's fairly full-on right now. We're putting together evacuation plans at the moment. If the water keeps rising the way it's going, we could be facing evacuations of 200-300 households," said Central Otago District Council spokesman Martin McPherson. Most of the business district had already started to evacuate by about 9am.

Constant rainfall meant Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka were this morning fast-approaching their highest water levels for more than 100 years.

"The water level in Lake Wakatipu as at 7am this morning is 312.025 [metres above sea level]," said Neil Johnstone, investigating engineer for Otago Regional Council.

"That's something which a lot of us who have been in this game a long time never thought we'd see in our lifetimes."

Queenstown and Wanaka had been cut off, as floodwaters and rockfals blocked all roads.

Phone lines and cell phone communiation had been cut to Wanaka, Mr McPherson said.

"We just don't know whats going on there. There seems to be no phone connections to Wanaka at all."

A Queenstown police spokeswoman said floodwaters were well up in the town this morning.

"Sandbagging is going on like crazy at the moment. Everyone is out in the town doing something to help."

A MetService heavy rain warning remained in force for the area.

"This is our third 'one in every 500 year' flood since 1994," Mr McPherson said.

"The water is being held back at Clyde by the Clyde Dam, and they're spilling water as fast as they can. THere's no more room in Lake Dunstan, there's no more room in Lake Wanaka, there's no more room in Lake Wakatipu."

About 20 fruitpickers had been evacuated from an orchard near Alexandra, and some people had already decided to leave their own homes, Mr McPhereson said.

Police had been out all night notifying residents in low-lying areas of the threat of flooding.