'Widespread disaster': Communities cut off after flooding

By Contributor

An aerial photograph of damage to State Highway 6 and flooded paddocks at Canvastown. Photo / Marlborough Regional Council

By Local Democracy Reporting

Marlborough is moving into recovery mode today but fixing what's damaged following heavy rain is going to be a "long game", the region's civil defence controller says.

Civil Defence emergency teams continued to provide welfare support on Monday, with the region's harbourmaster Jake Oliver also out on the water in Queen Charlotte Sound to check on residents.

Civil Defence Marlborough regional controller Richard McNamara said some of the region's north-western areas, such as Rai Valley "suffered" anywhere between 750 and 1000mm of rain over the last three to four days.

It meant residents in Kenepuru, French Pass, Canvastown and Rai Valley, among others, were isolated.

"Those are unprecedented levels of rain, and therefore the damage is quite extensive," McNamara said.

"Those are short, sharp catchments, and the rivers came up very quickly, and of course we had a lot of slipping and slumping right across the landscape."

A number of houses had been impacted and destroyed, and several people had been displaced, McNamara said.

"Civil Defence is currently dealing with some key issues, such as medication and supply out to affected people, and transferring people who need to get out, such as for hospital appointments.

"We're just dealing with individuals as these cases are known to us."

They were trying to get to everywhere they could, but this was "hampered" on Sunday due to the low cloud. Meanwhile, using boats could be problematic because of the amount of debris in the water, he said.

One water taxi had been damaged in the Queen Charlotte Sound because of this, McNamara said.

Geotech engineers were undertaking some work, particularly around Picton where there had been slips. More engineers, assisted by the Minister of Business and Innovation, were expected to arrive on Sunday, he said.

"This is a long game. We're dealing with this very large, slow-moving slip of damage and displacement, right across northern Marlborough. That's taxing resources."

Marlborough Lines had done a good job at restoring power across the region, he said.

The Marlborough Lines website indicated about 2000 residents had been impacted by power outages in the 48 hours leading up to noon on Sunday.

Of those, 1500 properties had been restored by Sunday afternoon, with nearly 500 still without power, mainly in the Marlborough Sounds.

McNamara anticipated State Highway 63 would be closed for a "number of days", but said they were lucky to get State Highway 1 reopened on Saturday night, given it was such a critical network.

"It's a widespread disaster that we're looking at.

"But the agencies throughout Marlborough are doing a sterling job, including Marlborough Lines, police, ambulance, local iwi, fire and emergency.

"If you think about Nelson, it's highly concentrated, particularly in that Maitai catchment, whereas for us, we've got these pockets of damage right throughout a large area.

"The Marlborough Sounds foreshore ... it's a massive area, and it's got massive infrastructure problems with vulnerable roading and vulnerable power networks."

Havelock water supply remained in short supply on Sunday following a leak. McNamara said it would be difficult to fix the leak until water levels came down.

"I know people are obviously upset, particularly where they suffered a similar fate in the July floods last year, we fully understand that, and we're doing the best we can to respond to this.

"I can tell you the response here in Marlborough is one to be extremely proud of."

Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents Association treasurer and rural firefighter Stefan Schulz could only walk about 50 metres from his house one way, and 250 metres the other.

"The slips aren't really the problem, although there's quite a few of them," Schulz said.

"The trouble is what they call the underslips, slumps, that's where the road subsided.

"There is a number of them. So the reality is we will be weeks before the road is open again."

Schulz went about 50 hours without power, but as a volunteer firefighter, quickly turned on his radio to keep in contact with other residents, he said.

"We instantly had a reasonably good picture of where the major dramas were."

While he could not speak for everyone in his community, he said he had enough food and supplies to last a couple of weeks.

"But I think what we need to organise is some sort of smaller boat transport which takes care of everyday items.

"There may be some people that will rely on more regular supply of groceries.

"We're trying to cope as much as we possibly can, we do appreciate all of the effort that everyone does to help us out."

Penzance Bay (Tennyson Inlet) resident Leanne Schmidt said there were multiple landslides, subsidence and a bridge washout on their road, which was cut-off from the wider community.

She said she did not know when the Marlborough District Council would be able to fix it, given there was such a large scale of damage across the region.

It was "too unsafe" to walk the 15km long Opouri Saddle to check the extent of damage, given the "land was still moving" and unstable, she said.

"The landslides are still moving, they just keep coming down."

She had heard Te Hoiere Water Taxis had offered to take people to Havelock for appointments, and to get supplies, and was hopeful the Marlborough District Council would consider this for some funding.

"Because we're rural we keep a good supply, so we don't have immediate needs. But it costs a bit to go back and forth ... its getting increasingly challenging.

"You don't know what you need until you need it. It's a little sad to see the damage to the land, with landslides dotting the shoreline.

"The landscape has permanently changed."

Meanwhile, Te Tauihu iwi have placed a rāhui across the entire northern coastline of Te Tauihu o Te Waka-a-Māui.

The rāhui took effect at noon on Saturday, which covered the area from Te Parinui o Whiti (the White Bluffs) in the east, west to Kahurangi Point, including Aorere and Tai Tapu. It covered all coastlines, river mouths, and floodwaters, and prevented the gathering of seafood and kai in those areas, as well as swimming or entering the water.

It was put in place by the Iwi Emergency Management Rōpū, working as part of the region's emergency operations centre, with the support of all eight mana whenua iwi of Te Tauihu (the top of the south).

Iwi Emergency Management Rōpū Tikanga Pou lead Barney Thomas said the rāhui would remain in place as long as te Taiao dictated.

"It has to be healthy and that could be some time off. It's sad that we are here again, but that is Tāwhirimātea and what we must do as people of the land is work with that - work with what we are handed."

Plan your journey using Waka Kotahi's Journey Planner or check the latest roading updates at the Marlborough District Council website.

People were advised to heed weather warnings and keep an eye on the MetService website or app.

For information on preparing for a flood please visit: getready.govt.nz

Anyone displaced by flooding or road closures was encouraged to contact the Marlborough Emergency Management by emailing teamwelfare@marlborough.govt.nz or by phoning 03 520 7400.

The Public Health Service recommends people on their own supply affected by flooding boil their water.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air