Transport links remain fractured, supply chains disrupted and farms under water across Canterbury after the region's hugely damaging floods .
While floodwaters subsided and evacuated residents returned home on Tuesday, broken bridges cut both road and rail services, effectively splitting the South Island's east coast in two, despite the partial reopening of the Ashburton bridge late in the evening .
Canterbury remains under a state of emergency , and residents in some areas must still boil drinking water.
Parts of inland Canterbury received half a metre of rain in the three days from Saturday to Monday, with 539mm measured at Mt Somers, according to MetService.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Mid-Canterbury by military helicopter on Tuesday, seeing flood damage by air and dropping in on farmers.
Ardern said reopening transport links was the "number one priority", but would require "extensive work".
Twelve hours after the Ashburton/Hakatere River bridge closed on Tuesday morning due to a 15cm slump, authorities began stress testing the span with 14 tonne concrete blocks to check its integrity.
The bridge was finally reopened to light traffic about 11.30pm on Tuesday but is set to close again between 10am and 2pm on Wednesday, for further investigations.
Ashburton District Council said the closure was needed to complete the load testing, which would inform the long-term solutions for the bridge.
"The damaged pier, which sank around 150mm during the recent one-in-100-year floods, is stable, based on the monitoring data received tonight," said Pete Connors, system manager for Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).
"Based on these results under load testing pressure each lane, the bridge can take light traffic."
The council said an alternative route was also opened up on Tuesday evening to detour around the bridge, using the Inland Scenic Route 72.
Ashburton District Mayor Neil Brown said heavy vehicles should use this route.
Vehicles that weighed less than 3.5 tonnes (such as a car, or van) were able to travel in both directions over the bridge but were limited to 30kmh.
Brown said Waka Kotahi, Civil Defence and contractors had been working hard all day to re-establish safe access routes for people stranded on either side of the bridge.
“This is very welcome progress, and my thanks goes to all who have made this possible. The engineers are satisfied that the bridge can now support limited traffic movement to allow people to safely cross.”
The council issued an update at 11.45pm on Tuesday to inform people travelling south of Tinwald to Rangitata that they had two options.
Waka Kotahi had an unsealed detour route around Hinds. The council had a sealed route available, which uses Longbeach Rd, Poplar Rd and Ealing Rd, the statement said.
No trains will run between Christchurch and Timaru for several days after rail bridges were damaged by washouts and slumps in Mid-Canterbury and South Canterbury.
New Zealand Trucking Association chief executive David Boyce said the bridge closures left the South Island south of Ashburton cut off from the rest of the country.
Some truck drivers had taken a 13-hour detour through the Lewis Pass to the West Coast, Boyce said.
"I don't think anyone is going to run out of food south of Ashburton at the moment but if it went on for a couple of weeks it could be a bit of an issue."
Supermarket operators Countdown and Foodstuffs both reported disrupted grocery deliveries south of Christchurch, saying there would be some gaps on shelves but they were working to get supplies through.
But in Christchurch at least one supermarket was left with some shelves empty, New World in St Martins apologising to customers for the limited bread it could offer because of weather disruptions.
Several stretches of state highways which had been underwater reopened on Tuesday, including parts of State Highway 1.
NZTA said highway closures remained at the Ashburton and Hinds bridges on SH1 and SH73 (Porters Pass) between Springfield and Castle Hill.
A handful of residents remained evacuated from homes in Mid-Canterbury on Tuesday evening. Selwyn District Council said about 10 houses were affected by flooding throughout its area.
New Zealand's defence forces swung into action to move people and goods where transport links were severed.
The Army delivered drinking water to Ashburton from Christchurch, while the Air Force dropped supplies at Mt Somers, evacuated two people from Porters Alpine Resort and transported councils' engineers so they could check on infrastructure.
Both forces have also helped transport medical patients.
Rural districts remaining cut off means some dairy farmers are facing pouring out milk.
Nick Giera, chairman of Federated Farmers' Mid-Canterbury dairy section, said while many farmers had dried off their cows before the storm, those supplying winter milk will be losing product until tankers can get through.
Closed routes would mean some were also struggling to get feed to stock, he said.
Timaru farmer Graham Talbot estimated that about 30 hectares of his 600ha Claremont farm would have been "completely submerged".
"There’s just so much rain in the system that the farm is completely waterlogged," Talbot said. "That’s probably going to cost us a good $70,000 for that alone when it comes to resowing and repair costs."
At Mt Hutt Ski Area west of Christchurch, rain damaged the access road and reduced the snow base, but the skifield remains on track to open on June 11 as planned.
Manager James McKenzie said there was "a lot of work to do" fixing and reopening the road and de-icing equipment including chairlifts. Staff arrived by helicopter on Monday to relieve those who had been there all weekend, McKenzie said.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has added extra flights between Timaru and Wellington for the next few days and over Queen's Birthday weekend, and has offered to carry essential supplies or emergency personnel until SH1 can fully reopen.
Canterbury University structural engineering professor Alessandro Palermo said even a temporary fix to the Ashburton bridge to reopen the highway could take "a few weeks".
He estimated the cost of permanent repairs to columns or piles would be "in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars", or as the bridge was "very old" NZTA might choose to rebuild at a cost of millions.
John Tookey, professor of construction at Auckland University of Technology, said the bridge damage is "substantial and concerning" and the structure would only tolerate minimal traffic levels while repairs are completed.
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