Marahau still on the mend six months after weather havoc

From Checkpoint, 5:38 pm on 27 August 2018

Marahau is still a landscape of mud and logs, six months after Cyclone Gita wreaked havoc on this small area of the Tasman District.

Heavy rain brought down an avalanche of pine and native trees; many blamed forestry for the damage to homes and farm land.

Riwaka and the Takaka Hill were also severely damaged by floods and slips in the late February storm.

But spring time has brought a flurry of repairs.

House with logs before February 2018 in inset picture and after the cyclone.

House with logs before February 2018 in inset picture and after the cyclone. Photo: Inset by Kyle Mulinder/Background picture RNZ/Tracy Neal

The portion of State Highway 60 over the Takaka Hill was severely damaged by slips triggered by heavy rain during Cyclone Gita, which struck the Tasman District in February this year.

Tonnes of rocks dumped into the river last week at the Marahau Valley Farm Community have been shaped into a retaining wall and barrier against the river, which threatened homes and lives in the storm.

However, the highway over the Takaka Hill would not be fully repaired until 2020.

Tractor at work in the Marahau Valley in August 2018.

Tractor at work in the Marahau Valley in August 2018. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

For Merv Hall, one of the community's residents, it was a positive step but he knows they were lucky. In Riwaka and in Motueka Valley, the clean up has only just started.

"I think it's been a matter that there are many voices here, and that we probably had a lot to say," Mr Hall said.

"We're a community of quite a few people and had the ability to mobilise."

Gita struck only weeks after Fehi rolled through Nelson, which directed massive storm surges into Tasman Bay, damaging buildings and homes the length of the coastline.

The 122-year-old Nelson waterfront building The Boathouse was among them.

Manager Amie-Jo Trayes said insurance had covered some of the repairs for the staged reconstruction.

"Stage one is getting open, so that is making the building safe, functional and accessible to the public and members, and the cafe open and making money again."

Fundraising was covering the remainder towards the grand re-opening in October, for which Kiwi folk-rock band The Warratahs have just been confirmed as the main act.

Sandy Bay Road, Marahau.

Sandy Bay Road, Marahau. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

Ms Trayes, who took over as the manager just before the storm, said there was never any question the heritage wooden building would be revived.

"It's been a massive undertaking, but the history of The Boathouse is that it was purchased by members in the 1980s. It was falling apart then, but those people ... they were there that same day of the storm, next to me in the rain, picking up bits of wood and planning the re-build."

The two storms combined caused almost $94 million in insured losses across the top of the South Island and West Coast.

Gita alone caused more than $500,000 worth of damage to the Marahau community farm - the worst in its 46 years.

Mr Hall said EQC had paid out its share, and the forestry management company, the forestry owner plus iwi have made significant contributions to the clean up. 

Tasman Forest Management oversees the Marahau plantations on behalf of a combination of owners, including a Chinese state-owned entity CNBN Forest products, and local iwi.

But the community's 11 shareholders each faced repair costs of about $60,000 to $70,000 on the leasehold land.

Riwaka fruit and vegetable grower Frank Hickmott was still picking through the mess.

He did not have insurance to cover the cost of fixing broken fences, and the loss of a third of his bean crop.

Riwaka fruit and vegetable grower Frank Hickmott with his dog Suzie.

Riwaka fruit and vegetable grower Frank Hickmott with his dog Suzie. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

Mr Hickmott said the help he got was closer to home.

"People rallied around - people we know like the churches came and helped clean up the garage and things like that," Mr Hickmott said.

"I didn't feel stressed about it because you didn't feel like you were on your own."

The Tasman District Council has spent close to $10m fixing public infrastructure like roads and culverts.

Council post-Gita recovery manager Richard Kirby said there was a high expectation of councils in such events, but there were limits.

"We have rate-payer funds and one of the challenges we have is to make sure those funds are spent for the public good, rather than the private benefit."

The biggest challenge had been managing and responding to the effect on people, Mr Kirby said.

The Marahau community had some advice for the folk of Tolaga Bay, who suffered a similar fate in June, Mr Hall said.

"Get together as a group - don't stand alone. When people get together you can share the pain, the load, the work and get action and things happening much faster."