Sound: Lionel Sceats remembers the Tangiwai disaster

A reporter's view

Hear Lionel Sceats talk about the disaster.


It's a long straight stretch of railway, with the main highway close by. Motorists who have travelled through this part of the country know that as they pass the railway station at Tangiwai – that is 7 miles to the south of Waiouru – there's a river – the Whangaehu River – about a quarter of a mile, maybe half a mile past the railway station, past the crossing. This was the scene of the disaster. The railway line itself is a long, straight stretch, and on both sides of the railway bridge are elbows in the river – on the east side of the bridge.

At this moment the mud and the slush which is left, and all the silt, indicates that the pressure of water from the mountainous areas in the east – Ruapehu is to the east – this flood water, the pressure of water which came from the cloud burst south of Ruapehu, must have struck the railway embankment, and the only outlet, under terrific pressure, was under the bridge.

And the bridge was only 20 or 30 feet high, about 90 feet long. It had about half a dozen pylons – I can only see three, four, one of them tumbled on the northern end, the other two, one of them about 40 feet from its previous position with the dirty, grey water swirling over it and the other fully 40 yards away. And all that is left of this bridge is 20 or 30 feet on the southern end.

The pressure of water must have swept those two massive concrete pylons down the stream. The parallel road bridge, further away – well, it's about 100 yards further away – was also wrecked, and all the low-lying area is covered with mud and silt, showing the severity of the flood, which was the cause of the disaster. [END]

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