New Zealand village 'in hands of God' as fire threatens

WELLINGTON (AFP) – An entire village of more than 3,000 people was evacuated in New Zealand on Saturday (Feb 9) as a huge bushfire threatened houses, and firefighters said they were “in the hands of God”.

A state of emergency has been declared around the town of Wakefield as the fire, which has had been raging across parched countryside in the Nelson region, at the top of the South Island, moved within 10km of the residential area.

It had swept across about 2,100ha of mainly bush and pine forest since erupting in the tinder-dry rural district on Tuesday.

The regional police commander, Zane Hooper, confirmed they had successfully completed “the orderly evacuation of Wakefield”, while fire chief John Sutton said the critical danger point could come on Sunday.

“I’m worried about tomorrow, to be honest,” Sutton said.

“We are in quite a good place strategically today, but we are in the hands of God when it comes to the wind. If we have winds that are anywhere near 50 kilometres per hour today, we’re in trouble.”

Helicopters being used to fight the fire have at times been diverted to douse other flare-ups in the region, including one on tree-covered hills bordering Nelson city which is home to about 50,000 people.

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New Zealand consumer watchdog takes ticket platform Viagogo to court

WELLINGTON (DPA) – New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has joined a growing number of watchdogs around the world taking controversial Switzerland-based ticket platform Viagogo to court claiming it is breaching consumer law.

The commission, which has collected more that 500 complaints about the Swiss company, presented its case at the New Zealand’s High Court on Tuesday (Feb 5), alleging that Viagogo has breached the law and seeking an injunction restraining it from further breaches.

The commission is accusing the company of making misleading claims that tickets were in short supply when they were not, advertising incorrect prices for tickets and claiming they could guarantee the validity of tickets when they cannot.

Sue Chetwin, chief executive of non-profit organisation Consumer NZ, told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday the company was hard for punters to deal with.

“With Viagogo it’s almost impossible to find anybody to speak to if something goes wrong. They’re based in Switzerland and very secretive,” Chetwin said.

It was a great idea to have an outlet for punters to resell unwanted tickets, “but Viagogo turned this into an international business and in some circumstances, the tickets are actually fraudulent,” Chetwin said.

The company is also facing court or enforcement action in Switzerland, Germany, France, Britain and Australia.

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Storms set to break the New Zealand heat

Tropical Cyclone Fehi heads towards the South Island with hurricane force winds and flooding rains.

    After more than a week of soaring temperatures, the searing heatwave across New Zealand is about to come to an end. This is likely to be the country’s hottest month on record.

    Over the past 10 days, some areas of the country have seen the mercury exceed 30 degrees Celsius.

    The hot winds have blown in from southeastern Australia where highs have reached the low 40s Celsius at times. Temperatures in Adelaide and Melbourne are now nearer the low 20s.

    The extreme temperatures in New Zealand have been at their highest on the eastern side of the country due to a process known as the Foehn effect.

    Air cools with height and conversely warms up on descent. The Foehn effect is where air dries out and warms up as it passes onto the sheltered downslope of a mountain range.

    Wednesday was the last hot day of the spell and also one of the hottest days of the year. Temperatures along the east coast of the South Island again passed 30C with inland areas nudging 40C.

    Waiau Hamner in the Canterbury region reached 36.4C by 1400 local time on Wednesday.

    This followed a high of 36.6C in Cromwell on Tuesday, equalling its hottest ever January temperature since records began.

    We still have some way to go to reach the hottest day on record. That was February 7, 1973, when northern and eastern regions of the South Island experienced a high of 42.4C in Rangiora. Nine out 10 of the country’s highest temperatures were recorded that day.

    The next few days will see a dramatic change in conditions with the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Fehi barreling towards the country. At the same time, a weather front is sliding across the Tasman Sea towards the South Island.

    The two systems are expected to merge and could cause widespread flooding. Authorities are concerned that they might even bring a repeat of the severe floods of 1984.

    Tropical Cyclone Fehi formed near New Caledonia at the start of the week and has been steadily drifting south. It will have weakened significantly by the time it crosses New Zealand.

    Nevertheless, the country’s Met Service has issued severe weather warnings for heavy rain and strong to gale force winds for much of the South Island and lower parts of the North Island. 

    The heaviest downpours are expected on Thursday with western parts of the South Island getting 200 to 400mm of rain. East of the Southern Alps can expect 50 to 100mm. Damaging winds are also likely, Gusts of 129 to 130 kilometres per hour could also add to the dangerous conditions.

    Quieter weather is forecast by the weekend as the rain clears through and winds ease down. It will feel much fresher, and indeed more comfortable by then, with temperatures nearer the high teens or low 20s Celsius. There might even be a dusting of snow on the hills.

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    'World's loneliest duck' Trevor dies on tiny Pacific island of Niue

    SYDNEY (AFP) – A lone duck named Trevor that lived on the tiny Pacific island nation of Niue has died, officials say, sparking an outpouring of grief from as far away as New Zealand.

    The celebrity mallard found fame last year after a visiting journalist from New Zealand discovered that his makeshift home, near a puddle, was used for directions.

    But his 15 seconds of fame were tragically cut short when he was “seen dead in the bush after being attacked by dogs” this weekend, a Facebook page dedicated to Trevor said.

    The chief executive of the Niue Chamber of Commerce, Mr Rae Findlay, said it was a “sad time for Niue”.

    “He captivated the locals, of which there are only 1,600 in Niue, and the 9,000 visitors to Niue each year,” Mr Findlay told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday (Jan 27).

    “He will definitely be missed, he captured many hearts, and even the rooster, the chicken and the weka were looking a little forlorn today wandering around the near-dry puddle.” A weka is a flightless bird that can be found only in New Zealand.

    Niue, a tiny speck of land, lies around 2,400km north-east of New Zealand.

    One of the world’s biggest coral islands, Niue does not have natural ponds or wetlands, so when Trevor turned up a year ago, he was believed to have blown in from New Zealand with a storm.

    He quickly settled down in a large puddle near a road that the Niue fire service later topped up with water, the ABC reported.

    He became so famous locally that when the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor Claire Trevett visited the island nation, she found he had been incorporated into street directions.

    “Someone said ‘turn right past the duck’ and then the whole story came out; the only duck on Niue,” she told the ABC. He was later dubbed the “world’s loneliest duck” for his solitary existence.

    Mr Trevor Mallard, the speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives after whom the late duck was named, offered his condolences.

    “Deepest sympathy to the people of Niue from the Parliament of New Zealand,” Mr Mallard wrote on the duck’s Facebook death notice.

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    Trousers caused fatal New Zealand chopper crash, probe shows

    WELLINGTON (AFP) – A deadly helicopter crash in New Zealand occurred when a loose pair of trousers flew out of the cabin and wrapped around the tail rotor, an investigation found on Thursday (Dec 20).

    The bizarre circumstances around the crash in October that claimed three lives near the South Island resort town of Wanaka were revealed in an Transport Accident Investigation Commission report.

    “There is evidence that a pair of over-trousers that had been packed in the cabin came out of the helicopter and became entangled in the tail rotor,” chief commissioner Jane Meares said.

    “Paint marks on the over-trousers matched the colour and profile of the tail rotor blades, and marks on a tail rotor blade match a zip and dome connector on the over-trousers.”

    Releasing its interim findings, the commission said the case underlined the danger of loose items in helicopter cabins.

    The crash occurred on Oct 18 when the helicopter was taking off, claiming the lives of the pilot Nick Wallis and two conservation department workers.

    In another twist, the pilot’s brother Matt Wallis died piloting a helicopter in the same area just months earlier.

    The commission also released an interim report into that crash on Thursday, finding the most likely cause was a main rotor drive-shaft failure that caused the helicopter to break-up mid-flight.

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    New Zealand defence report says climate change is greatest security risk

    WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – New Zealand released a defence policy statement on Thursday (Dec 6) calling climate change its greatest security threat and stressed the importance of the issue to the geostrategically contested Pacific region, which is seeing increased influence from China.

    The assessment came on the heels of a defence policy earlier this year that warned China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability, drawing a complaint from the Asian giant.

    “It identifies climate change as one of the most significant security threats of our time, and one that is already having adverse impacts both at home and in New Zealand’s neighbourhood,” said Defence Minister Ron Mark in an e-mailed statement.

    The report said that states could look to use assistance on climate change as a way to boost their influence and access in the region.

    “Working with Pacific Island countries on climate change, including in the security sphere, is an opportunity to learn lessons from each other while further strengthening strategic partnerships,” it said.

    That underscored comments from Samoa’s Prime Minsiter Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi who told Reuters in November that Australia and the United States should follow the lead of China and do more to prevent climate change, which would devastate many island nations.

    “Traditional powers in the region have this anxiety about China’s intentions and so they are looking to assure Pacific islands that they are listening to their concerns,” said Wesley Morgan, an expert in Pacific politics at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

    The emergence of China as a key aid donor and major lender for Pacific countries has led to friction between the Asian giant and western nations, which boiled over at a recent Apec summit in Papua New Guinea.

    China’s foreign ministry has said it is helping Pacific nations with much needed assistance according to their wishes and is promoting their social and economic development.

    New Zealand’s defence minister said he was using the assessment on climate change to inform defence spending and investment plans set to be released next year.

    New Zealand’s government led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put combating climate change at the heart of its policies and on Wednesday announced a NZ$100 million (S$94.1 million) investment fund to spur growth in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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