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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 12:24 GMT
New Zealand hit by summer storms
Flooded road
Roads and bridges have been washed out
New Zealand remains on guard after unseasonal summer storms lashed across a central swathe of the country.

Two men are believed to have died in the storms, which brought heavy rainfall and winds reaching 167kph (100mph).

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the small town of Picton, on the north tip of the South Island, on Tuesday, amid fears two dams could collapse.

The cost of the damage is thought to exceed NZ$100m (US$71m), a record.

Floodwaters have begun slowly to recede, but large areas up to 200km north of the capital Wellington remain submerged.

In the Horowhenua area, authorities remained on high alert after the Manawatu river burst its banks, prompting the evacuation of 50 people.

'Lapping at the door'

In the farming areas of Manawatu and Rangitikei, states of emergency remain in place after rivers burst their banks, sending mud, water and gravel through hundreds of houses.

One flood victim, Morris Jackson, told AP television: "The water was lapping the bottom of the doors and within about 10 minutes it was in the house.

"And I'm afraid it was just a disaster, we've got about 6in through the house."

Up to 1,000 people were evacuated in Picton after 40mm (1.6in) of torrential rains fell in 40 minutes on Tuesday - sparking fears that two dams above the town could collapse.

But most have now been allowed to return, reported Reuters news agency, after engineers declared the dams safe.

Livestock toll

Some of the country's many farmers were trying to find lost livestock and bury dead animals.

Sheep farmers reported losing up to 500 lambs, the Associated Press quoted officials as saying.

The power cuts have left some farmers trying to milk herds of several hundred cows by hand.

Cattle gathered on high land as the waters rose around them
Late on Monday police found the body of a 35-year-old man who went fishing in Wellington Harbour on Saturday night, reported AP.

Another man, whose boat sank in the Marlborough Sounds on Sunday, was missing, presumed dead.

Chris Ryan, chief executive of the Insurance Council, said damage estimates could exceed the previous record of NZ$100m, set after storms hit in 1984.

He said most damage was to homes and cars - with many homes suffering at least NZ$30,000-worth of damage.

Most of the wild weather is thought to have passed, but more showers are forecast across the country.

Country profile: New Zealand
05 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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