10 Feb 2020

Southland floods: 'The community has been really strong'

11:19 am on 10 February 2020

The clean-up in flood-sodden areas of Southland gets under way in earnest this week, as the water slowly disappears and the full extent of the damage is revealed.

Southland flooding: rivers receding

Floodwaters in Mataura last week. Photo: Supplied / High Country Helicopters

Some roads in Gore and Matuara have been lined with mattresses, couches and rolls of carpet, stained with the tell-tale signs of dampness. Diggers are scooping them up into a big truck headed straight for the dump, aided by extra council rubbish collections this week.

Long-time mayor of Gore, Tracy Hicks, said people were just getting on with it.

"It is devastating, but you don't have too much choice really. You've just got to get on and deal with it at the time. I'd say everybody I've come across is in that mode."

Twenty-one homes in Gore and nearby Mataura had floodwater come through, the worst about half a metre high.

Alison Bishop's house after the flooding.

Cleaning up after the flooding in Mataura Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

"A lot of assessment going on from insurance companies, and people working out what the way forward is for them from here. There are some people who don't have insurance, they don't have that luxury, so a bit of a challenge for them," Hicks said.

A little more than 12,000 people live in Gore, and 1500 in Mataura - and a helping hand hasn't been far away.

"The community has been really strong, really staunch, rallying around and making the best of a bad situation," Hicks said.

A state of emergency is still place in Southland and will be reviewed on Tuesday. Southland mayors are meeting on Monday to discuss the recovery effort.

Drinking water in Gore, Mataura and Otama still needs to be boiled. Ninety-four households have registered with Emergency Management Southland, indicating they need some sort of assistance.

Emergency Management Southland controller Bruce Halligan said authorities will now be assessing the significant damage to roads, stopbanks and water infrastructure.

"It's a long process. There's really extensive infrastructure damage across the province, so it's by no means over from our perspective - a long recovery ahead really," Halligan said.

Southland Rural Support chair Cathie Cotter said there was still a lot of surface flooding on farms so the full extent of the damage isn't yet known.

Cotter said they've called more than 1000 farmers to ask what they need, and some seemed to be putting on a brave face.

"You can ring farmers and they will say 'Oh yeah, I'm fine, you need to check on my neighbours, I'm really worried about [them]'. And when you talk to the neighbour they say 'oh have you checked with [my neighbour]' - the guy we've just been speaking to - because they've never seen them so badly affected," Cotter said.

"They're certainly a stoic bunch; they always feel there's always someone more needy than them."

Cotter said one thing was certain - everyone had lost fences, bowled over by floating debris, baleage or the sheer volume of water. No farmers had reported flooded homes, but some had lost tractors and bikes.

But she said they've had to get on with it, no matter the conditions.

"We have had a couple of farmers that continued to milk when their cows were knee-deep in water - you can only imagine how deep the pit was that they were working in," Cotter said.

"Some said it was quite cold; they wore waders or wetsuits to get the job done, but the cows have to be milked."

The government will contribute $100,000 to the Southland Regional Mayoral Relief Fund. Hicks, who is the forum chair, said a decision on where the money will go was at least a week away.

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