by Helen Holt

Road closures between Timaru and Christchurch have held up thousands of deliveries.

Heavy rain and flooded rivers closed roads and bridges throughout Mid and South Canterbury over the weekend, with the Ashburton River bridge on State Highway 1 one of the last to open, affecting an estimated 3500 freight trucks that would usually travel through the town each day.

At the time of printing, freight was beginning to make its way in to South Canterbury from the north, easing pressure on supermarkets staring at empty shelves.

In Timaru, a Countdown staff member in Browne St on Tuesday said the supermarket had had no deliveries from Christchurch since the weekend.

“We’re running short of produce. We haven’t had any deliveries today apart from items like bread which we get from Dunedin.”

She was unsure how the supermarket would replenish its shelves without deliveries coming from Christchurch.

New World Timaru owner/operator Caroline Hall said on Tuesday that delivery delays were mostly affecting produce and milk.

Demand had been heavier than usual at the weekend as the rain set in, but Mrs Hall said she had been expecting some deliveries on Tuesday evening, and hopefully more yesterday.

Deliveries were always slower after situations like the weather event, so it would likely have an impact throughout the week.

“But once we refill today and tomorrow [Tuesday and Wednesday], we should be pretty good.”

On Tuesday, the only official alternative route between Timaru and Christchurch was a 13-hour detour via Haast and the Lewis Pass.

Clean up coming . . . The weekend’s heavy rain has caused significant damage to infrastructure throughout South Canterbury. PHOTO: BRIAN HIGH

Road Transport Association chief operating officer Simon Carson said the 13-hour trip was a significant cost for freight companies.

“Some drivers may decide it’s worth the trip, but most will probably sit on their hands and wait for [State] Highway 1 to open again.”

“We have discussed with NZTA and the council about updating these bridges, because when something like this happens, there’s no alternative routes.

“The back routes are not suitable for freight.

“The Ashburton bridge is 80 years old and the Rakaia bridge is 100 years old, so they’ve needed to be updated for a while.”

The Ashburton bridge on SH1 reopened for light traffic at 10pm on Monday. It had been briefly opened before drivers crossing it reported slumping on the deck at the Ashburton end.

Load-testing was carried out using a crane and 14-tonne weights, and the bridge was scheduled to close again from 10am to 2pm yesterday to allow for load testing for heavier traffic.

Engineers are working on longer-term solutions for a pier that sunk about 150mm during the flooding.

The power of water . . .Torrents of water wash debris across Date Highway 72 at Winchester during the weekend’s heavy rain. PHOTO: BRIAN HIGH