31 Aug 2021

Weather: Floods force west Aucklanders from homes

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 31 August 2021

As if level 4 lockdown was not hard enough, some west Auckland residents were forced to flee their homes early on Tuesday morning when flood waters rushed into their houses and kept rising.

In some areas the water got to neck height, forcing people to move in with friends or other family - joining bubbles just to get a roof over their heads.

And as the rain clears and waters begin to subside the clean-up has begun.

"Never ever seen anything like it, and the stream at the back of our property was up about four metres. Really high, so that's why I was worried about these guys lower down."

As rain pounded west Auckland overnight, people like Andrew Smith braved the weather, watching on as torrents of water flowed down his Waitākere street.

Smith said he is one of the lucky ones. His house is safe, but the property two doors down was evacuated as were up to 60 others across the region. 

Many fled in the night, abandoning homes as floodwaters rose. Fire and Emergency NZ was inundated with calls, responding to 370 incidents before 10am.

Lifeguards also stepped up to help, rescuing residents trapped in their Kumeū homes as more than 200mm of rain fell in just 14 hours. 

Standing in waist-high water and with the help of dinghies, the team from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region had to smash the window of a shed to rescue one man from inside. 

In Kumeū the water hit many houses and businesses. By Tuesday afternoon, flood levels were still high.

It had taken most of the morning for many businesses on Kumeū's main road to unblock drains and get rid of the water.

Some business owners told Checkpoint in the 30 years they had been there, they had not seen the water get over the road.

It was a 4am start for Johnny Mills from Bridgestone Tires in Kumeū. 

"Woke up to a call from the neighbour saying the place was flooded and there was probably about 600mm of water coming through the shop. 

"We arrived here and out front was pretty much like a river going through and the whole shop floor was absolutely flooded out."

The water subsided, but left the shop floor covered in silt. Mills is worried about the damage to his machines. 

"It did come quite high so we might be up for a bit of damage there. But you can't really do too much about when nature does its thing, you've just got to get on with it, clean up."

With roads resembling rivers and fields more like lakes, even rescue vehicles needed rescuing.

Rescuer Luke Wellacott and his team were working to free a truck stuck in the water. 

In Henderson, the Waipereira Trust drive-through vaccination centre moved indoors to the Trusts Arena.

Chief executive John Tamihere said it had been a stressful morning waking up to the damage and changing plans. 

"We started at 6am, drawing and mixing the vaccines, by 7am the weather just made it impossible.

"Last night a lot of our infrastructure was taken out by the storm, so we then had to rebuild everything inside. 

"We had to hire in 450 chairs and all the rest of it."

Several vaccination staff were unable to come to work as they were repairing their homes. Some were even evacuated.

They were still planning on getting through around half the amount of vaccinations scheduled for today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reminded people that emergency situations trump alert level rules. 

"We are being pragmatic. Emergency situations and evacuation advice overrides alert level requirements. The most important thing is keeping people safe," she said. 

"If you're advised to evacuate by authorities because of an emergency, please follow that advice and of course we understand that the situation will mean that there will be some bubbles who by necessity are joining other families simply because they need shelter."

The heavy rain warnings for Auckland have now lifted, but west Auckland residents have a major clean-up on their hands, with many insurance claims to make.