Rotorua people are swinging into action with food, accommodation and translators to help the survivors of a bus crash near the town that left multiple tourists dead and injured.
It's still unknown how many people were killed when the bus, carrying more than 20 people, rolled on State Highway 5, near Waiohotu Rd and Galaxy Rd, Mamaku, at 11.20am on Wednesday. Multiple people were taken to hospitals in Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauranga.
A police press conference at 5pm is expected to reveal more details of the crash. Aerial images of the scene show the bus on its side in a ditch, surrounded by emergency services.
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the Rotorua Lakes council was providing welfare for those who walked away from the crash.
The scene where a tour bus rolled off State Highway 5 west of Rotorua.
"At the request of the police, Rotorua Lakes Council is providing any welfare assistance needed for passengers who were not injured. That could include anything from providing food and translation services to liaising with accommodation providers and enabling them to contact family. This is a police-led operation and Council staff, under the direction of civil defence staff, are assisting as required."
The first of five helicopters involved in the rescue effort touched down in Hamilton soon after 1pm, with staff wheeling injured patients into the hospital. The tourists were believed to be from Asia and on a tour by a small scale operator.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts told more than 200 industry members of the crash during the second day of their annual tourism summit in Wellington.
"It's a horrible tragedy when anybody dies on our roads but doubly so when its visitors to the country."
He said the tourism industry would support the injured and the families of those who had died.
"While we never like to see these tragedies, we do know how to respond in these circumstances and we are pulling together support services."
St John Ambulance dispatched five helicopters, three ambulances and a manager to the scene.
St John said confirmed one patient in a serious condition and one patient in moderate condition were airlifted to Waikato Hospital. One patient in moderate condition was flown to Tauranga Hospital and three patients in moderate to minor condition were transported by road to Rotorua Hospital.
Fifteen patients were been transported to a secondary triage area for further assessment.
Trust TECT Rescue Helicopter pilot Todd Dunham said it was pouring with rain while the crew worked "heads down" to get their patient onboard the helicopter.
A white, smallish, bus was on its side on the roadside, he said.
Dunham said there were multiple fatalities, although he didn't want to speculate around how many.
Greenlea Rescue Helicopter pilot Nat Every said it was a busy, yet well organised scene, with four helicopters arriving with 10 minutes of each other.
"There was a lot going on."
While he wasn't sure, the size of the bus looked like that of a large tour group.
"It's pretty sad for all involved."
Hospitals gear up
Waikato emergency department staffers were busy preparing to receive patients from the crash, the DHB said. Rescue helicopters were seen landing at the hospital and patients were taken inside on stretchers.
The department uses an emergency management structure to make sure everything runs smoothly in situation such as this, a spokeswoman said.
A reporter on the scene of the crash said the first of those ambulances came through the police cordon at 12.50pm. A further two followed ten minutes later.
Survivors were seen emerging from the crash scene. They were seen wearing rain coats and carrying umbrellas as they were escorted away.
Waikato rescue helicopters confirmed three of their helicopters: one from Hamilton, one from Tauranga and one from Taupō had been dispatched.
A chopper from Auckland was also sent to assist.
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said the crash was "absolutely tragic".
"..as a community we will do whatever we can to assist," she said.
"At the request of the police, Rotorua Lakes Council is providing any welfare assistance needed for passengers who were not injured.
"That could include anything from providing food and translation services to liaising with accommodation providers and enabling them to contact family.
"This is a police-led operation and Council staff, under the direction of civil defence staff, are assisting as required."
Meanwhile, the Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team have been activated.
"Our volunteers are currently supporting people affected by the recent bus crash, providing psychological first aid assistance," they posted on Twitter.
The crash occurred in overcast conditions and heavy rain. A police officer directing traffic said the road would likely be closed for a number of hours.
NZTA said diversions were put in place between Tīrau and Ngongotaha. Long detours via Tauranga or Tokoroa would be required, they said.
Motorists were advised to avoid the area.
The police Serious Crash Unit and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Team were at the scene.
NZTA data shows that there were 515 crashes involving a bus in 2018. Four of these were fatal crashes, accounting for five road deaths. A further 31 people received serious injuries in bus crashes in 2018.
A woman from Rotorua, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she had never seen so many emergency services travelling on Ngongotaha Road near Rotorua.
She estimated at least 15 vehicles, which included ambulances, firefighters and volunteer services.
It was "really bad" and it was "the most we have ever seen go to a callout"," she said.
Mel Moon, who lives near Waiohotu Road, said the highway was a busy road which tourist buses often used.
However, she didn't know anything about the circumstances of Wednesday's crash.
Locals described the weather as pretty windy, and off and on heavy rain.