14 Jul 2014

$100,000 for storm-hit Northland

10:17 pm on 14 July 2014

The Government is contributing $100,000 to the mayoral relief fund set up to help those affected by last week's devastating storm in Northland.

Damage in the upper North Island region has been widespread and floodwaters have affected hundreds of homes and families. The storm began on 8 July and more wild weather at the weekend caused floods, power cuts and road closures, and threatened water supplies in the town of Paihia.

Work begins to clear a slip on Mangakahia Road in Northland.

Work begins to clear a slip on Mangakahia Road in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Nikki Kaye.

Nikki Kaye. Photo: SUPPLIED

Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye has visited the region and waded through water in some houses. Farmers, particularly in the Hikurangi swamp, were talking of tens of millions of dollars worth of damage, she said.

Ms Kaye said on Monday that her ministry, along with local authorities in the Far North, have set up the fund. She said the ministry would continue working with councils to make sure assistance is available for anyone experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the severe weather.

Ms Kaye said some communities have been isolated and without power for a number of days, and the roading network has suffered damage from slips and flooding.

There is welfare available for families who have been affected, but the mayoral relief fund will provide other assistance for those who need support, she said.

The MetService says last week's prolonged storm brought three times the region's normal rainfall.

Duty forecaster Mads Naeraa-Spiers said last month was the wettest June on record in Northland and July is on track to be the same. Normal rainfall for the month is about 180 millimetres, but some parts of Northland received three times that amount last week alone, he said.

State Highway 1 at Maromaku, south of Kawakawa, remains closed due to storm damage.

State Highway 1 at Maromaku, south of Kawakawa, remains closed due to storm damage. Photo: NZTA

Millions to repair 'fragile' roads

Civil Defence says the storm has exposed the fragility of Northland's roading network and its overall damage will be significant. Some some sources are putting it at more than $10 million.

Motorists are continuing to face delays as crews clear slips and flood debris following a weekend of heavy rain.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said on Monday that contractors will be working around the clock to reopen State Highway 1, south of Kawakawa, which has been closed since a washout last week.

The storm has left region's roads littered with potholes.

The storm has left region's roads littered with potholes. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Regional journey manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said reopening the road is a priority. She didn't know the final cost of repairs, but expects it will be millions just to repair State Highway 1.

The Far North Council on Monday evening closed Mangakahia Road to heavy traffic after two days of increasing damage. It was the only direct route left into and out of the Far North after the State Highway 1 closure.

The council said Mangakahia Road was already damaged by the storm and it's not coping with the hammering it's getting. Trucks and tankers that would normally use State Highway 1 have been using the road constantly, putting pressure on a surface that's water-logged and slumping in many places.

Mangakahia Road remains open to cars, but trucks and tankers must now take State Highway 12 up the west coast through Hokianga to get to and from the Far North, adding over two hours to journey times.

Another alternative route, Ruapekapeka Road, is also breaking up from heavy use, the council warned. The metal road runs from Towai on State Highway 1 to Kawakawa - bypassing the slump, but it is steep, slippery and closed to trucks.

Mangakahia Road has been closed to heavy traffic.

Mangakahia Road has been closed to heavy traffic. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Call to improve bridge

A community leader in Moerewa says improvements to infrastructure might halt severe flooding in future. The township was one of the hardest-hit communities, with 11 households evacuated on Sunday night and more people staying in their garages. Others stayed put in their flooded homes.

Ngahau Davis, chairperson of the local community trust, said it's the second time in three years that Moerewa has flooded so badly, and it might be time for the Far North District Council to consider solutions so the highway does not have to be closed so often.

In heavy rain, the bridge at the bottom of the Turntable Hill on State Highway 1 always gets knocked out, Mr Davis said. He praised help the township received from emergency services this time.

Paihia's water treatment plant became clogged with silt.

Paihia's water treatment plant became clogged with silt. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Water supply problems continue

Residents in Paihia were being urged to conserve water after silt affected the water treatment plant and reservoir levels dropped.

The Northland town was just a few hours away from running out of water on Sunday, when the treatment plant became clogged with silt from the flooded Waitangi River and the reservoir level fell to just 15 percent.

Far North Civil Defence Controller Alistair Wells said the level rose to about 50 percent overnight on Sunday, but the plant was running slow to cope with silt, and the council needed people to reduce their water demand to match supply.

Flood waters were receding on Monday, but Civil Defence said it would take some time for them to go completely.

Mr Wells told Morning Report that building inspections were under way in the region and would take a few days to complete. He said some people were still displaced by the flooding and are being looked after.

Flooding on Otiria Road, Moerewa on Friday.

Flooding on Otiria Road in Moerewa. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams