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Floods devastate Southland

26 January 1984

Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet
Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet (Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1984/0515/7A-F)

A record one-day total of up to 84.8 mm of rain caused extensive surface flooding in the streets of Invercargill, Riverton, Ōtautau, Tūātapere and Bluff.

Local waterways soon overflowed, and by 4 a.m., a state of emergency had been declared. By morning, streets, houses, shops and factories were under water, and local streams sent torrents of water through Invercargill. Levels rose further still as high tide prevented floodwater from draining into Invercargill estuary. Invercargill airport was flooded by water that was 3 m deep inside the terminal.

By mid-morning on 27 January, the state of emergency included all of Southland. The rain had stopped by noon, but the rivers continued to rise.

Floodwaters left around 1200 homes uninhabitable and forced the evacuation of more than 4000 people. No people died, but livestock losses were heavy – more than 12,000 sheep, 330 pigs, 100 cattle and 75 deer drowned. A relief appeal raised more than $3 million (equivalent to $10 million in 2020), and insurers paid out tens of millions of dollars in claims.

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Floods devastate Southland, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated