Rivers burst their banks as a weather system dumped 400mm of rain in two days, an amount meteorologists said exceeded the entire rainfall so far this year in some areas.

This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows floodwaters near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain.
This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows floodwaters near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain. (AFP)

New Zealand's military has been deployed to evacuate hundreds of residents from flood-hit areas of the South Island as heavy rains washed away bridges and cut roads.

Rivers burst their banks as a weather system dumped 400mm of rain in two days, an amount meteorologists said exceeded the entire rainfall so far this year in some areas.

This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows drenched heifers standing in floodwaters near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain.
This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows drenched heifers standing in floodwaters near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain. (AFP)

Authorities issued a rare "red" weather warning and declared a state of emergency in the Canterbury region, one of the South Pacific nation's farming hubs.

The New Zealand Defence Force said one of its helicopters rescued three people at Ashburton, near Christchurch, plucking one man from a tree and an elderly couple from the roof of a car.

The defence force said soldiers, trucks and an ambulance were helping with the evacuation effort.

This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows army soldiers helping evacuate residents near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain.
This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows army soldiers helping evacuate residents near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain. (AFP)

Ashburton mayor Neil Brown said the entire town of 35,000 had been cut off.

"We have four bridges gone and a lot of damage to roads where the seal's just been lifted off, we've got 17 roads that are shut... there's a lot of damage," he told reporters.

This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows army soldiers helping evacuate residents near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain.
This handout photo taken on May 30, 2021 and received on May 31 from the New Zealand Defence Force shows army soldiers helping evacuate residents near the Canterbury town of Ashburton as authorities declared a state of emergency after the region was pounded by heavy rain. (AFP)

Local media reported about 300 homes had been evacuated, with civil defence authorities establishing shelters in schools and sports centres.

Forecasters said the weather was expected to ease overnight.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to visit the disaster zone on Tuesday.

Source: AFP