1 Jun 2021

Farmer waiting to check damage on flooded property

11:35 am on 1 June 2021

An Ashburton farmer is waiting to find out what damage has been done to her farm after the stopbank just metres from their house burst.

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Floodwaters in the North Branch of the Ashburton River on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Farmland in the mid-Canterbury region is under water after days of intense rainfall, and some farmers worked in dangerous conditions to rescue stock.

On Sunday one farmer spent hours clinging to a tree in the floodwaters before he was rescued and taken to hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.

Philly Rooney who lives halfway between Ashburton and Methven, close to the Ashburton River, said the water surged towards the house incredibly fast when the stop bank burst about 9am on Sunday.

"It was havoc," she said.

"I was sitting in the lounge, having a cup of tea and I looked out the window. We have some big trees by our silos and I could see them sort of shudder.

"I opened the door and the water was just coming there. By the time we got to the garage, put my gumboots on and got to our yard, which is 10 metres from the house, it was over my knees.

"So yeah, incredibly fast. It was very scary."

Rooney and her husband ran to get the horses and pigs out of the way of the floodwaters.

"My husband got the tractor, he drove through fences just to get everything out."

Her mother and friends collected the children and the couple stayed behind to feed their 200 cows before packing their bags.

"The bank had burst more in the time that we were packing up inside," Rooney said.

By then, the water was half way up the lawn but not inside the 10-year old, house which is built about 1m above ground.

"It's a family farm, my dad lived there when he was a kid. The original homestead used to flood quite often before the stop banks went in. When we built the house ... we had to build it up just in case it flooded, because we're only 50 metres from the actual river."

The Rooneys have not been able to get back to the house, but sent a drone over the property yesterday which showed the stock was safe.

Flooding in Ashburton Forks area and damage to approach to bridge over south branch Ashburton River

Flooding in Ashburton Forks area. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Mid-Canterbury Federated Farmers president David Clark told Morning Report the Rooneys were on the north side of the North Branch of the river and "that is probably the most vulnerable spot of the whole river system."

As the Ashburton River peaked and reduced, it became dangerous, he said.

"Water flow speeds increase, they get a bit unstable and they start hunting for places they can get out and they've done that. So we've seen the North Branch break out to the south and then we've seen the South Branch break out to the north."

He said there was also a lot of damage for those stuck in the middle of that area at Greenstreet.

Clark said rivers had broken banks "in places where they shouldn't have" and water levels have been higher than expected.

"There has been more rain in some localities than was forecast."

Clark said he was disappointed that people like the Rooneys in a vulnerable part of the river were not evacuated.

He said farmers had prepared as well as they could, but some were caught out as floodwaters rose past "what should have been high ground" which meant some stock were left isolated.

"The event on Saturday night, Sunday morning was more extreme than even the most extreme of the weather forecast we had received up until then."

So far, he said had not heard of widespread stock losses as a result of the flooding, as snow might have done.

"But on some particular farms, there has been some stock - and we haven't quantified how many yet - that have been lost due to floodwaters. But in some situations, we just about lost farmers trying to save those stocks."

The focus now was on recovery, he said.

"There could have been a lot more devastation if that rain had kept going for another 12 hours, we would've really been in strife, well more so than some particular farmers are now."

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