updated 3/29/2007 11:34:41 AM ET 2007-03-29T15:34:41

Buildings were washed away, homes flooded and scores of buses and cars trapped by raging flood waters in northern New Zealand Thursday after the equivalent of three months of rainfall poured down in just 36 hours, local officials said.

TV3 Network reported hundreds of people trapped in vehicles on highways in New Zealand's Northland region.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries, emergency services said, after up to 18 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in several parts of Northland.

In the Bay of Islands tourist area, flooding at popular Haruru Falls swept away a hillside after a river burst its banks, washing away four motel apartments.

"We are now part of the Waitangi River," resort owner Jan Gerritsen-Molloy told National Radio.

"The river is now in most of our rooms and up to the front of our restaurant, (it's) normally 150 meters (500 feet) away," she said.

About 200 vehicles were trapped on one state highway, Northland emergency operating center spokesman Jason Dawson said.

Stranded motorist Alison Lees told TV3 she was trapped along with 30 other vehicles on a highway cut by floodwaters.

"Coming down from the hills are ... absolute waterfalls ... all around me," she said, adding flat land ahead of her was "a raging torrent of water, it's half way up the tree trunks and ... roaring, it's flowing by so fast."

The nation's Meteorological Office issued severe rain warnings late Thursday for part of the North Island's east coast as a rain front moved across the region.

Simon Weston, works manager in the northern city of Whangarei, said that "people who have lived in the area for 30-40 years have said they haven't seen rain like this."

In the small town of Kerikeri, the two oldest buildings in the country, erected in the 1820s, were being sandbagged late Thursday as staff tried to protect them from the flooded Kerikeri River, Historic Places Trust regional manager Sherry Reynolds said.

"Our main concern though is the Mission House and Stone Store — it is the buildings themselves that are the real treasures," she said.

Both were severely damaged by flooding in 1981.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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