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Large slip closes Rimutaka Hill Rd

A view of the Ruamahanga River from the Waihenga Bridge on Tuesday morning. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN


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A large slip of 50-60 tonnes of material closed the Rimutaka Hill Rd on Tuesday, shutting off the main link between Wairarapa and Wellington for the second time in two days.

The slip occurred on the Upper Hutt side of the hill, about 1km north of Kaitoke.

The road was closed at 1.45pm, and reopened at 3.30pm after contractors had cleared the area.

On Monday night, the road was also closed for over two hours due to wind gusts over 120kph.

Rainfall also played its part in traffic delays on Tuesday as a rising Ruamahanga River closed the Waihenga Bridge — on State Highway 53 near Martinborough — at about 12.30pm.

By late evening, it remained closed.

South Wairarapa District Council infrastructure and services manager, Mark Allingham, said the bridge closing wasn’t a major concern.

“It’s not a biggie — the weather is coming from the west and north, and even if that bridge does close the other access points will remain open.

“This happens dozens of times a year — it’s not a one-off event like the last storm we had.”

MetService had a warning for heavy rain in place until 5pm on Tuesday, but the rivers were expected to take longer than that to come down.

A MetService meteorologist said the rising river levels were not a surprise since the measuring devices in the Tararua Ranges had recorded over 100mm of rain in the previous 12 hours.

“Having said that, numbers are quite a lot smaller in the places where people live.

“Unless you’re right up against the ranges, you’re really only looking at up to 10mm.”

“It’s small numbers, but the wind is a different story.”

The Rimutaka Hill summit and Castlepoint were tied for the strongest recorded wind gusts, both recording gusts of 126kph.

Ngawi recorded a maximum gust of 100kph, while Masterton Airport had gusts up to 91kph.

“We currently have a strong wind warning out for severe gales, which expires at 2pm [yesterday],” he said.

“That doesn’t mean the winds will die out completely — it’s just a dropping off at the top end of things.”

Light winds were forecast for most of Wairarapa on Wednesday morning, before turning southerly in the afternoon.

The wind gusts were strong enough to close the Rimutaka Hill Rd on Monday night.

The road was closed at 8.30pm, and reopened at 10.51pm.

Wairarapa’s representative on the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Adrienne Staples, was heading back to Wairarapa at about 9.15pm but found the road closed when she got to the hill.

“The traffic lights where they are completing the road works had been blown over,” she said.

“They had to close the road while they fixed it.”

Mrs Staples said the wind was still swirling when traffic was allowed to progress over the hill, and said it was lucky the road did not have to be closed during peak commute hours.

“One minute it was hitting the rear of the car and the next it’s hitting the windscreen.

“We met upcoming traffic at the top of the hill and there were maybe 20 cars going the other way.”

Carterton Fire senior station officer, Wayne Robinson, said they had responded to one call related to the strong winds.

“A roof had come off a trailer and the truck never stopped.

“It was just south of Carterton and the vehicle had proceeded on.”

They had moved the trailer roof from the road and put it on the back of a tow wagon, he said.

The roof, an aluminium structure on a steel frame measuring about 10m by 2m, is now in the possession of Carterton Police.

They said the driver could contact them directly to retrieve the roof.

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