VAN DAMAGED BY FLOOD
Simon Baker  /  Reuters
This van was retrieved after flooding washed it into a river and then against a bridge in Picton, New Zealand.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/19/2004 11:11:23 AM ET 2004-02-19T16:11:23

Hundreds of families returned to their flood ravaged homes Thursday as the clean up began from a powerful storm that ravaged parts of New Zealand.

Rivers fed by a massive downpour earlier this week tore through levees and inundated tens of thousands of acres of farmland. Powerful winds toppled trees, ripped down power cables and tore off roofs.

Some disrupted road and rail systems were still closed Thursday after what is expected to be the nation’s costliest storm.

Weather forecaster MetService warned of a new storm packing winds of 75 mph and torrential rains heading toward the country.

National dairy cooperative Fonterra said flood-hit farmers have so far dumped more than 2.5 million gallons of milk because delivery trucks can not reach their farms.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the extent of the floods could only be described as “a horror.”

After touring flood-stricken areas she promised coordinated government aid for flood victims.

Emergency coordinators said several homes had been washed away by raging river torrents, while dozens of others continue to wallow up to their roofs in the muddy brown water.

Insurers said the damage bill could top $70 million. Two men who went boating in gale force winds were killed.

Weather officials said the storms were unusual for the summer season and had been caused by cold air from the Antarctic ice shelf colliding with warmer moist air.

“These two ingredients were able to mix together over the North Island and bring wind and rain on a scale that is only seen about once every 10 years,” said a spokesman for the MetService.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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