New Zealand military called in as hundreds flee floods

Wellington: New Zealand’s military was deployed to evacuate hundreds of residents from flood-hit areas of the South Island Monday as heavy rains washed away bridges and cut roads.

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Rivers burst their banks as a weather system dumped 400 mm (15.5 inches) of rain in two days, an amount meteorologists said exceeded the entire rainfall so far this year in some areas.

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Authorities issued a rare “red” weather warning and declared a state of emergency in the Canterbury region, one of the South Pacific nation’s farming hubs.

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The New Zealand Defence Force said one of its helicopters rescued three people at Ashburton, near Christchurch, plucking one man from a tree and an elderly couple from the roof of a car.

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The defence force said soldiers, trucks and an ambulance were helping with the evacuation effort.

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Ashburton mayor Neil Brown said the entire town of 35,000 had been cut off.

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“We have four bridges gone and a lot of damage to roads where the seal’s just been lifted off, we’ve got 17 roads that are shut… there’s a lot of damage,” he told reporters.

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Local media reported about 300 homes had been evacuated, with civil defence authorities establishing shelters in schools and sports centres.

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Forecasters said the weather was expected to ease overnight.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to visit the disaster zone on Tuesday.

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