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Region awash… A firefighter watches the rising Ashley River from the Cones Rod Bridge, near Rangiora. The river peaked at Ashley Gorge at nearly 1100 cubic metres per second, and hit nearly 1500 cubic metres per second at Cones Road. Photo: Neil Clarkson

By Robyn Bristow

When the Lumsden family looked out the window late Saturday, and saw the Ashley River coming towards their Okuku home, they grabbed their four cats and five dogs, threw them in the car and drove to the neighbours.

“Within minutes the river was a raging torrent. We were lucky to get out,” Joanne Lumsden.

Neighbours banded together, wading through waist deep water in the dark, guiding the family’s 11 panicking horses to safety, along with their four cows and 15 sheep.

The Lumsden family, their four cats and five dogs, spent the night with the Gyde family down the road.

They were relieved on Sunday morning to find their Garrymere Road home had been spared, with water lapping the bottom of the deck. But the power of the water left a telling mark when they found one of their bee boxes up a tree, having been swept over deer fencing. A couple of hives ended up in a lake created by the river, but the remaining hives have vanished.

Logs, flattened fences, and debri litter their block, along with all property owners on the south side of the road, and beyond to Bullock Creek as around 200mm to 300mm of rain fell on Saturday, Sunday and Monday .

Six people trying to rescue alpaca on Sunday, which were threatened by the flooded river near its confluence with the Okuku River, were helped to safety by emergency services, including the Westpac Rescue helicopter, after they became trapped by floodwaters. The 34 alpacas were choppered out in slings on Monday.

The rescue helicopter had just a few hours earlier been called to look for a man swept down the Okuku River in his four-wheel drive. He managed to get out and cling to his vehicle for a time, before being swept away, suffering a harrowing time being tossed around in the river.

He eventually managed to clamber out of the river through willows and blackberry to a paddock over a kilometre downstream, where he was found, battered, bruised and hypothermic.

He was flown to hospital in a serious condition, but was discharged on Sunday night.

Flooded rivers were dropping this week as property owners set about assessing damage.

Major towns escaped with largely surface flooding, and there were no major bridge
closures. However, many roads throughout North Canterbury were closed.

A huge washout cut the key road to Lees Valley, and approaches have been washed away on Whistler Bridge in the valley.

Nearer Rangiora, areas including Southbrook had been declared at-risk areas as the Ashley River peaked.

At Pines Beach and Kairaki, some residents in low-lying areas were evacuated on Monday as high tide threatened.

Six families were also evacuated from Okuku as the river rose again.

An accident at Greta Valley on Monday, in which a truck driver died, closed State
Highway 1 for a time. Police believe a tree fell on his cab.

Council staff, contractors and engineers were this week assessing roads, bridges and
other infrastructure.

Evacuation centres have closed after housing people under threat when stopbanks
on the Eyre and Ashley rivers threatened to breach on Sunday night.