Families return home after major flooding in South Island

By Jessica Tyson

After spending the night in welfare centres, many residents from more than 500 homes across the upper South Island have been able to return home today.

The West Coast and Buller was saturated by more than 250mm of rain over the weekend, causing major flooding, road closures and evacuations.

Civil Defence have been trying to determine whether flooded homes are habitable after Buller and Orowaiti rivers topped their banks in torrential rain sending water surging through the town.

Marlborough Civil Defence says most homes in Marlborough have been safe for people to return to. However, the full extent of the damage in hard-hit Westport is still being assessed and it is being referred to as the worst natural disaster there since 1968.

Te Kotahi o Te Tauihu Charitable Trust has been involved in leading the Māori response team to support whānau.

Trust spokesperson Dr Lorraine Eade says it was important for the group, who represent the eight iwi of Te Tauihu, to be involved after more than 900 people were being evacuated from 500 homes.

"The last big flood we had was in 1983. This time we had to evacuate Wairau Pā. The water came right up to the top of the stopbank. We had to evacuate Spring Creek and Tuamarina. Of course earlier, there was lower Renwick being evacuated as well," she says.

Safety when returning home

The Buller District Council is warning people to use personal protective equipment if they handle items that have been in contact with floodwater.

“Treat all flood water as being contaminated,” the Buller District Council said in statement.

People are also being warned to be careful around electricity.

“If your house has water in it, and the power is still on, please leave your house immediately and contact Buller Electricity, as there is a serious risk of electrocution. If you have had water in your house, there is potential a serious risk of electrical hazard, and you need to get an electrician to check this before using any power.”

Community hub

A community hub has been set up to give residents a place to register their needs and get information.

"The hub is based at the NBS Theatre, Westport, from 9am to 4pm daily through to Sunday, July 25."

Agencies including the Buller District Council, Homebuilders, Age Concern, Public Health and Red Cross will be available.

“It is expected Kainga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, Animal Welfare, and other local community agencies will be available later in the week.”

The hub is being coordinated by Maegan Bird from Homebuilders Trust. She says residents are welcome to turn up for a “cuppa and a chat”.

Road closures

State highways 1 and 6 are open but many local roads are still closed or have limited access for residents and emergency services only.

Meanwhile, Queen Charlotte Drive, which links Havelock to Picton, is closed today.

Marlborough Civil Defence says work is continuing along the Drive to make the road passable and safe for users.  

Marlborough mayor John Leggett says staff and contractors are working overtime to assess the damage to reconnect residents and visitors via the Drive.

“Our team needs time to get the job done,” he says.

“This has been a massive event and there is considerable damage to repair. We are doing everything that is practically possible at this time.”

For more information on road closures, visit Waka Kotahi here. To stay across weather and emergency updates visit the Civil Defence website here and follow their Facebook page.