Queenstown is under a state of emergency as rain continues to fall and flooding affects many parts of the region.

Niwa says Queenstown has recorded its wettest 24-hour period in 24 years, with 87mm falling from 9am yesterday to 9am today.

Especially hard hit is the local cemetery, a major section of which has been decimated by slash and logs washing down from Bob’s Peak. The cemetery sits at the foot of the Skyline Gondola.

The Shotover River at full force. Photo: Melanie Reid

It’s believed more than 100 grave sites have been buried in rubble and severely damaged. No information is forthcoming and people who have family buried at the cemetery have not been able to find out any information.

Newsroom approached the council, which said there was no confirmed information other than the cemetery was in the affected area.

In 2019 the Queenstown Lakes District Council removed a band of wilding pine trees surrounding the gondola to prevent “future health and safety risk that may be posed to people accessing the aerial cableway and other businesses located on Ben Lomond Recreation Reserve”.

Photos of the area show mud and logs covering headstones, many of which have been smashed, and police have cordoned off the area.

Slash covers Bob’s Peak where the Queenstown Gondola is visible. Photo: Melanie Reid

It’s a case of “here we go again” for Newsroom’s investigations editor, Melanie Reid, who was in Piha when Cyclone Gabrielle struck and is in Queenstown during the current floods.

“My brother is buried in that cemetery, so that’s a bit devastating. And the debris has come down through all the surrounding streets.”

Debris spills over the edge of the Queenstown Recreation Ground from Memorial Street. Photo: Melanie Reid

But Reid emphasises the damage is nothing like what happened in Muriwai, Piha or Hawkes Bay in February, and says it looks like the rain is now easing.

Some schools, early learning centres and roads have been closed, but tourists are visiting the town, which remains open.

Debris covers Man Street, central Queenstown. Photo: Melanie Reid

Evacuation centres have been set up to accommodate the more than 100 people who have been evacuated from their accommodation. 

One of those is Tom Chambers, a visitor from Adelaide, who was woken at his hostel on Isle Street at 2.30am and told to leave.

“I got told to pack a bag and leave because the street was being evacuated. I couldn’t believe the rain was that bad,” he told Newsroom.

Mud flowing down from the hills covers Memorial Street. Photo: Melanie Reid

The state of emergency will be in place for at least seven days. It comes on the heels of another disaster for the tourist hotspot after an outbreak of cryptosporidium has meant a boil water notice was in place for the town, with the mayor saying it could be months until it was lifted.

Bonnie Sumner is part of the Newsroom Investigates reporting team

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