Sam’s drone captures flood drama

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One of Sam Anderson's dramatic shots of the Rangitata River in damage mode.

By Linda Clarke

A picture paints a thousand words, says Mid Canterbury drone enthusiast Sam Anderson, whose dramatic videos and photos of the Rangitata River flooding have been seen around the world.

Mr Anderson and his son Matthew, 15, shared images of the weekend emergency to authorities, news media and on social media so people could see exactly why the State Highway 1 and Arundel bridges were closed.

The dramatic footage showed what 2280 cumecs of water in the Rangitata River can do. The river broke its banks, damaging the southern road approach to the Arundel bridge and spilling into the usually dry south branch of the river near SH1. Flows there washed out the main rail trunk line and parts of the highway, then flowed over farmland to the coast. Several Transpower pylons were also damaged.

Locals and tourists alike could not cross the river from Saturday morning until noon Monday.

Mr Anderson said his images were taken from a DJI Mavic Pro drone that he had owned for two years. He uses the drone during his work as operations manager for MHV Water, an irrigation scheme supplying water to hundreds of farmers in the Mayfield, Hinds and Valetta area.

He also uses it when he goes hunting and fishing.

The drone has a range of 7km, but he operates it only within his line of sight, as required by New Zealand flying regulations.

On Saturday morning, Mr Anderson and his son decided to check the river at Arundel and were able to cross the bridge and return before it was closed. Matthew’s drone footage of the brown, angry floodwaters was viewed more than 70,000 times in two days.

On Sunday, he was able to fly the drone over damaged road on the south side, helping roading and local authorities see the extent of the damage.

Route 72 was washed out in three places near the Rangitata South Irrigation ponds and contractors worked through the night on Sunday to remove the top seal and dump gravel to allow traffic through on Monday.

He was in the area when traffic began flowing and said cars were banked up for kilometres on Hinds Arundel Road, Maronan Road and Route 72 before authorities lifted the closure.

He said he had been surprised the drone footage had been so widely viewed and that there had been demand from national and international news outlets. “I thought I would just put it out there so people could see why the bridge was closed. They were just turning so many people away and it was a way of getting the message out.”

He said he was happy to be returning to his day job, while authorities got on with the big repair job.

The irrigation canals and races that take water from the Rangitata Diversion Race will need to be cleared of silt once the river returns to normal.

“It shows that you really can’t control nature.”