6 Feb 2020

Southland floods: Mataura residents start to return home

8:28 pm on 6 February 2020

Residents who were evacuated from the Southland town of Mataura due to flooding yesterday afternoon have now begun to return home to assess the damage.

State Highway 1 through Mataura was reopened about 6pm and there is surface flooding along the main road and a number of houses are surrounded by floodwater.

Several houses on Bristol Street have had water through them.

Many residents who were evacuated from the town have begun to return home to assess the damage.

One of them was Alison Bishop.

Her house, which survived previous floods in 1978 and 1913, has dirty brown floodwater right around it.

The house had just been renovated and Alison Bishop and her husband were planning to retire soon.

She said they were able to get some of their belongings off the ground, but it was likely they would face a big clean up.

They have a motorhome, so they hoped they would be able to stay in that while they got things sorted.

Flooding in Mataura.

A number of houses in Mataura are still surrounded by floodwaters. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

At the house next door, there is a mark on the fence showing how high the water got.

People wading through it ended up knee-deep, with water spilling over the tops of their gumboots.

Pumping equipment was expected to arrive this evening to begin clearing some of the water.

It is the last evacuated town to be reopened in Southland after the Mataura River flooded yesterday morning.

At one of the evacuation centres, Edendale Christian Fellowship, the news people could return was met with whoops and cheers and hugging.

Tau Benenu, who stayed there, said was grateful for the support he had received.

He said he met new friends from his town he had never met before and the amount of support he received has been a blessing.

He hopes the community will continue to support each other as they return to see their homes, about 20 of which are uninhabitable according to Southland Emergency Management.

Another Mataura resident, Steve Melhuish, said he is prepared for whatever he finds.

"It's all an unknown but I've seen a few aerial photos and it looks like we might be spared, it looks like it's come up the street and an hour can make a lot of difference, it could have come up and gone down, what's happened has happened."

Flooding in Mataura.

Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Advice for returning Mataura residents

The Gore District Council said in a statement that some houses have had their power disconnected and a letter has been left to inform the homeowner.

Some houses may be flooded or uninhabitable and people who need assistance or advice should go to the Mataura community centre in McQueen Avenue, where a community support centre is being set up, the council said.

There is a boil water notice in place for Mataura, Gore and a water tanker and port-a-loos will be available in the centre of Mataura.

Mataura residents are being asked to conserve water, stay away from the Mataura River and not to drive or walk through flood waters and to treat all flood water as contaminated.

They are also being asked to conserve water and to check on their neighbours particularly if they live alone, are elderly or vulnerable.

Tractors arriving in Mataura with pumping equipment.

Tractors arriving in Mataura with pumping equipment. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Paper mill given all clear

High-level discussions are underway to speed up the removal of potentially hazardous ouvea premix from the old paper mill in Mataura.

There were fears that if floodwater got in to the paper mill, toxic ammonia gas could be released, but it has been given the all-clear.

Gore District Council chief executive Stephen Parry said it was a long and difficult process to reach a deal to have the premix removed.

"The contract's removal has been underway now for four months, 450 tonnes now has been removed since October, it's not as if the council has been sitting on its hands, it's just that the solution has been very difficult and the council can't force a solution on other parties."

Parry said his discussions to ramp that up are making rapid progress.

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