Queenstown flood – what you need to know

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Downtown Queenstown retailers are scrambling to get emergency measures in place as flood-prone Lake Wakatipu rises to threatening levels. 

Worried business owners were emptying their premises of equipment yesterday afternoon and sandbags were stockpiled last night as people recalled the devastating flood of 1999 which caused almost $60 million of damage.
One major downtown landlord Skyline Enterprises put plans in place to erect a metre-high, A-framed barrier around its lakefront buildings Eichardt’s, Town Pier, Thomas’s Hotel and 24 Rees Street. The temporary wall is designed to “stop the wave action and restrain water to about 600mm high”, Skyline chairman Ken Matthews confirms. 

Lakeside businesses were yesterday warned by Queenstown Lakes District Council and Otago Regional Council officials to be on standby for possible flooding today or tomorrow – especially with more rain forecast. 

However, business owners say they’re better-equipped to cope than they were 11 years ago when water engulfed the Wakatipu basin and shut parts of downtown for months. 

Atlas Beer Cafe owner Davey McKenzie was loading outdoor furniture and surplus stock on to a truck yesterday afternoon. 

“I designed all the fit-out so it can be broken down and taken away,” he says. 

“As soon as the water gets to the wharf, which is about 30cm away, I’ll start unbolting the bar. But [in the meantime] we’ll trade to the bitter end.” 

Macpac store manager Clare Atkinson says given some businesses don’t have insurance because of the flood risk it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

“It’s not worth the risk [of ignoring warnings].” 

Steamer Wharf co-landlord John Stevenson ordered sand and sandbags. 

“We’ve had a management plan before so I’m out at the storage just getting all the stuff, generators, pumps.” 

Boiler Room duty manager Jason Whalley says his staff spent yesterday afternoon raising equipment to higher ground. 

“It’s a bit of a play-it-by-ear situation. These [officials] know what they’re talking about so you do need to prepare. It’s going to affect the businesses down here, cost-wise.” 

QLDC spokeswoman Meaghan Miller told Mountain Scene last night: “We do think and we are hopeful that we will only see low-lying flooding across reserves, across perhaps a bit of road, and that we won’t have anything worse than that, but it’s possible it could be more significant. 

What you need to know 

Any queries, call Queenstown Lakes District Council, Gorge Road, 441-0499; don’t call QLDC contractors 

Emergency? Call 111 

Tune into local radio stations for flood-alert instructions 

Don’t walk or drive through flooded areas as they may be highly contaminated 

Retailers should ensure grease traps are emptied, relocate ground-floor stock and if necessary sandbag their premises 

Check lake level on Otago Regional Council website, www.orc.govt.nz

“We’re just saying, be prepared.” 

Local meteorologist David Crow says “quite a bit more” rain is expected today. 

“Especially about the western ranges where we don’t want it. 

“If I was right on the lakefront I would be starting to get a wee bit worried. It’s certainly not going to be a very severe flood but it might start to creep into the lower levels of town possibly by Friday,” Crow predicts. 

Crow, forecasting locally for 30 years, says showers are expected tomorrow but weather should be fine from Saturday. 

“If we can get through the next couple of days without too much drama we should be right.” 

Most lakeside bars and restaurants planned to stay open last night as the rain kept falling. 

“Let’s have a flood party and get the mojitos rolling,” The Yacht Club owner Craig Smith – who’s uninsured – jokes.

for more Queenstown flood news.

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