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Snow eases

The motorists who spent a freezing night out in their snow-trapped cars on the Napier-Taupo Highway have all been rescued.

Their abandoned cars are still on the road and people have been asked to meet at a local high school before they are bussed back to their cars in stages.

They will then drive their cars back to Napier and will not be able to continue their journey to Taupo until the road re-opens.

Up to 200 cars were trapped in the snow late last night.

Farmers were also out today counting the cost of the snow and rain as the cold-snap caught some high country farmers in lambing season.

A state of emergency was earlier declared on State Highway 5 due to snow and ice at Waipunga, about half-way between Napier and Taupo.

Police spokeswoman Kris McGehan said the snow was too deep in some places for graders to operate.

However, snow-ploughs and graders are working in other areas to free the trapped vehicles and the army’s Unimogs have been called in on the Waiouru side.

Hawkes Bay Federated Farmers president Kevin Mitchell said some farmers were caught out with the snow falling much lower than forecast.

“It’s pretty tough for the guys,” he said.

He said yesterday’s snow turned to rain after dark but the wind also picked up. Mr Mitchell said he has been trying to get in contact with farmers up in the Hawkes Bay ranges but none are answering their phones.

“They’ll be in trouble,” he said.

Mr Mitchell said the new-born lambs are most at risk before they get a feed and are able to stand-up.

“Sometimes you can create more harm than good if you go near them. You can’t house them all. If you can catch the newborns, you can put covers on them,” Mr Mitchell said.

But for those in the hill country, that is easier said than done and sometimes it is better to leave it up to “Mother Nature”.

He said farmers will hope that the survival instinct kicks in and ewes and lambs will head for the lee of a hill, trees and bush.

Police and the Taupo four wheel drive club have taken more than 200 people to the Rangitaiki Tavern, from where they were taken by bus to the Taupo Events Centre.

Others have been taken by Army Unimogs to buses at a safe point on the road and then transported to Hukarere Girls College in Eskdale, Napier.

Ms McGehan said a best case scenario could see the road re-opened tomorrow.

She said the plan is to have people return to their cars this morning but that will depend on the weather.

“It’s quite unprecedented for this level of snow in the area,” Ms McGehan said.

She said it is still raining and snowing in the area.

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been on hand to make sure the evacuees are warm and were fed.

“Most people received have been in good spirits and there have been no reports of serious injury, Civil Defence area controller Joe Mickelson said.

Power may be out to residents in the area for the next 24 hours.

State Highway One at the Desert Road has been closed since yesterday afternoon and snow continued to fall in the area this morning.




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