7 Feb 2020

Southland floods aftermath: Homes uninhabitable, clean up under way

1:26 pm on 7 February 2020

Residents evacuated from the Southland towns of Mataura, Gore, Wyndham and Balclutha due to flooding earlier this week return home - some 36 hours later - to assess the damage.

Alison Bishop's house in Mataura suffered flooding damage. February 2020

Alison Bishop's house in Mataura suffered flooding damage. Photo: Supplied / Alison Bishop

Dozens of farms were submerged and there were widespread road closures throughout Otago and Southland.

Mataura residents, Alison and George Bishop, who had to evacuate on Wednesday morning due to the flooding, entered their house last night.

Alison Bishop told Morning Report she was let back into the house about 8pm yesterday.

"Some of the water had receded for us to get into through the back door. When we opened the door there was about an inch to two inches of water left lying on the floor, but it had been to about a two-foot level. We had lifted quite a lot of stuff."

She said the water was silty and "everywhere the water's gone down, everything is just brown, brown as".

Some drying machines would help, she said.

"The carpets are just saturated, and just a layer of muddy silt all over the house. I think we'll rip all the carpets out and just recarpet ... it would probably just as expensive to do either or. We just put new carpets down not long ago."

She said she was lucky to be able to get their motorhome out, which is what they're staying in now at a friend's house.

"I had lifted a lot of stuff, but I've lost a lot as well."

She wished she'd also grabbed the vacuum cleaner, shoes and important documents.

She said she was "just heartbroken because we didn't think it would be quite this bad".

"We've just renovated and got ready for our retirement. I'm going to have to work a little longer now."

Steve Kaire-Smales who lives around the corner on Oakland Street said his heat pump was underwater and he had no power.

"[The] second car we've got in the garage is soaking wet. There's just rubbish ... I think I've got the whole neighbourhood's bark in this section."

Mataura River in flood in Gore in Gore

Mataura River in flood in Gore Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Jon Pemberton, a dairy famer at Brydone, near Mataura, told Morning Report, as the water was receding "it's more the carnage we're seeing as it leaves ... we're just in planning mode now".

He said the flood had displaced gravel onto the pastures. He hoped other farms weren't as badly affected as his.

"The longer the water sits around, the more silt we get ... the longer the grass [is] underwater, the more rotting happens. To be fair, it's been a really tough season for those guys down the stream, further towards the coast ... it's a bit of a kick in the gut really."

The Southland town of Mataura as it appeared from the air on Wednesday afternoon. February 2020

Mataura as it appeared from the air on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

He said it would be another three or fours day before the full damage could be assessed.

"The water travelled quicker than it has in the past. That's what caught a lot of people out and just the sheer volume of rain ... to have in between 100mm and 200mm over a couple of days across the region is pretty unheard of. The tides worked in our favour."

For his farm, he said he'd already had an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000, but there were a lot of unknown costs and it was still too early to reach an exact figure.

Removing potential toxic material

Another reason Mataura residents had to wait longer before being allowed back into their homes was the probability of toxic gas being released.

Gore District Council said it wanted to speed up the removal of ouvea premix stored at a paper mill near Mataura, after flooding almost reached the substance.

When saturated with water, ouvea premix releases toxic ammonia gas.

Ten thousand tonnes of the premix is stored in Mataura, but it's expected to take years to remove it. There are other batches of this substance still stored around the province.

Gore District Council chief executive Stephen Parry said since the water didn't touch the premix, the ammonia gas levels were low.

"For precautionary reasons ... we wanted to inspect the building and to do that we needed to make sure that the floodwaters we starting to recede."

Southland flooding: Gore

Gore flooding. Photo: Supplied / High Country Helicopters

He said evaluations we completed by Fire and Emergency and a structural engineer.

Parry said the company that put the premix in the building located next to the river was liquidated and the "culprit" was in Bahrain.

He was looking at getting the premix removed from the site "within weeks" adding that "it wouldn't cost that much" to move it.

Boost for relief fund

The government will contribute $100,000 to the Southland regional Mayoral Relief Fund, to support communities impacted by flooding.

Minister of Civil Defence Peeni Henare made the announcement during a visit to the region this afternoon .

He said the funding assistance will help those communities affected by the flooding to bounce back.

Henare said he knows that it has been a difficult time for many people but it was great that people took steps to keep themselves and their families safe.

Clean up and recovery

Emergency Management authorities in Gore said the town dodged a bullet, with flood defences standing up to the challenge of record flows down the Mataura River.

Emergency Management controller for the district Iain Davidson Watts said in "terms of scale and in terms of the number of people directly affected, the rural areas got it quite bad".

"[There are] more vulnerable people has been in the townships, [so] our focus has been Mataura and one or two streets in Gore."

He told Morning Report rural areas had also been hard "but they've probably taken care of themselves a bit more and we've been less involved in the response for those guys, but they've certainly been supported well from the regional effort".

The areas that were heavily flooded in the northwest of Mataura were pumped out overnight and the majority of the people had had the opportunity to inspect the damage, he said.

Some houses "into the 10s or 20s will be unlivable".

"Today we're getting building inspectors all over these details to ensure no building safety issues and they'll be providing advice as well to welfare support teams who can work with the affected residents."

He said there was still some clean up left but the majority of the water in Gore was pumped out.

In Mataura, there were instances of ponding in private residences.

"We're about 80-90 percent there in terms of getting rid of the majority of the water in the townships. We're still in a state of emergency because we've still got people who need support just from a pure support point of view that they're worried, they're scared."

He said damage assessments were about to start now, and early into next week more information on the scale of things would become evident.

Near the Wyndham bridge, Sue Campbell's driveway has been ripped up by the force of the water that came over it. The flooding reached the porch where she is standing before receding.

Near the Wyndham bridge, Sue Campbell's driveway has been ripped up by the force of the water that came over it. The flooding reached the porch where she is standing before receding. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

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