Stay away: concern for loved ones' graves as flood hammers cemetery

by Kim Bowden - Sep 22, 2023

The Queenstown Lakes District Council acknowledges many in the community will be concerned about the graves of loved ones as it seeks to determine damage done to the Queenstown Cemetery by floodwaters and debris that slammed down Bob's Peak overnight.

Plus, it is apologising for making a mistake in advertising St Peter's Church as an evacuation point this morning after some turned up to find a locked building instead of a safe, dry respite.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the school holidays, district mayor Glyn Lewers wants the rest of New Zealand, and the world, to know Queenstown is open for business, after a "bump in the road last night".

In its latest update to media after a seven-day state of emergency was declared for district this morning after the wettest day on record in 24 years, the council says officials have been working closely with geotechnical engineers to determine a safe approach to clearing debris on upper Brecon Street.

A cordon at the Man and Camp Street roundabout earlier today (Friday, September 22) - the no-go zone has shifted to the corner of Brecon and Isle Streets and will remain overnight, the council says.

The road remains closed with a cordon at the intersection of Brecon and Isle Streets, which will stay overnight, while a plan to allow affected businesses to reopen safely is worked through.

QLDC community services general manager Ken Bailey, today also emergency operations centre controller, confirms parts of the cemetery have been affected by slips.

While he says he recognises there will be plenty of people anxious about potential damage to the cemetery, especially those with family graves there, no members of the public can access the area for now.

"The emergency management and QLDC parks and reserves teams are liaising closely with religious groups and iwi.

"We appreciate the distress this is likely to be causing to those friends and family members affected and we will provide further updates to the community as soon as we possibly can.”

Bodies of pioneers, miners and soldiers are among those that lie at rest in the historical cemetery, established during the gold rush.

On the council's to-do list tomorrow is clearing the mess from one side of Brecon Street, adjacent to Kingpin and neighbouring businesses, to provide safe pedestrian access. Meanwhile, the other side of the road will be cordoned off while contractors and staff work to further assess and safely clear the area. This plan is weather dependent.

"A barrier will be in place to maintain pedestrian safety," the statement says.

Earlier today a contractor working at the base of the Skyline gondola told Crux water rushing down the hillside overnight picked up slash lying on the hillside below the gondola carrying it with it as it moved down the steep slopes towards the CBD.

Seeing the sludgy streets today littered with forestry debris many in town are asking why the clean up hadn't happened well before the rain took care of it.

A few streets over, in the area around the Reavers Lane, tucked in behind Gorge Road, the council says it has made good progress today diverting water to a manhole, but further work is required to clear a blocked culvert at the base of the catchment.

Some 41 people were evacuated from the area overnight, but many have now been allowed to return, as the council continues to communicate directly with those still impacted.

This evening the council has also admitting it got it wrong with one of the emergency evacuation centres it listed this morning.

Traffic travels on a sludgey Shotover Street this morning (Friday, September 22).

"Earlier we mistakenly communicated that St Peter's Church was an active evacuation centre.

"We sincerely apologise for any confusion or inconvenience this caused.

"There was a need early in the day for an evacuation centre but all affected people had been successfully moved to accommodation.

"If an evacuation centre is required at a later time, further communication will be shared."

Meanwhile the mayor has also issued a written statement seeking to reassure visitors Queenstown and the wider district is ready to to welcome them, despite the state of emergency.

“Our teams have been working hard over the past 24 hours to ensure Queenstown is cleaned up, and 99 percent of our businesses are now operating as they normally would,” Mayor Lewers says.

“The impacts of last night’s heavy rain, while significant, were very localised and the rest of the town is open and looking forward to welcoming visitors for the school holidays.”

He acknowledges the residents and business owners in the district that are still impacted by the deluge of rain that passed over the Queenstown Lakes in the past few days.

“We're working hard to ensure anyone affected by today’s events is looked after and can get back on their feet as soon as possible.

“I’d like to personally thank the teams that have been working hard to clean up our town and get it back to its best. There has been a huge amount of mahi over the last 24 hours and this will continue through the night and the weekend to come.”

Key messages from the council:

Main image (Facebook/Joseph Mooney MP for Southland): The floodwaters carried mud and debris towards the CBD (Image taken on Friday morning, September 22).


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