07 July 2003

Blizzard traps skiers & motorists in New Zealand
Hundreds of skiers and motorists in New Zealand spent a freezing night in makeshift shelters and mountain huts after the worst blizzard in years trapped them overnight, emergency services said Monday. About 350 skiers and 70 ski field staff were trapped on Mt. Ruapehu in central North Island Sunday night after driving snow blocked access roads, forcing them to huddle for shelter in ski huts and other buildings, operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts said.

The storm hit the mountain with "amazing speed,'' said company marketing manager Mike Smith, making it "too dangerous'' for skiers to leave the Whakapapa ski field. It was the first time in decades that skiers had been trapped on the mountain by snow, he said. The storm dumped a blanket of snow across the south and center of the country, cutting power to 10,000 homes in southern North Island as trees were dragged down across lines by the snow's weight.

Emergency shelters and wildlife threatened
Drifting snow blocked highways, stranding more than 500 motorists in southern and central North Island, forcing them to abandon their cars for emergency shelters in rural towns and an army base. Thousands of newborn lambs were left struggling to survive by the freezing conditions.

At the nearby ski town of Methven snow lay 30 centimeters (11 inches) deep, while 80 centimeters (31 inches) coated its Mt. Hutt ski field in just 36 hours. By midday Monday most highways in central North and South Island were open to traffic, as snow plows cleared drifts in many regions, police said. The Meteorological Service said a second, smaller storm which hit southern South Island Monday morning was expected to dump more snow in the next 24 hours.


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