16 Dec 2021

Residents assessing the damage after torrential rain in Manawatū

8:41 pm on 16 December 2021

The clean-up has begun in Manawatū after the second dump of torrential rain within three days left properties damaged, roads and bridges washed out, and nerves frayed.

Manuwatū rain

Horizons Regional Council has been actively monitoring river levels across the region. Photo: Supplied / Horizons Regional Council

After Monday night's downpour and persistent rain all week, when the heavens opened on Wednesday afternoon, the water had nowhere to go.

In northern Manawatū, flash floods wipes out bridges and roads, leaving residents on Reu Reu Road stranded.

The water rushed down into the valley as people living there, such as Julie Rush, could only watch on.

"Everybody up this road - there're about eight or nine families - we're completely cut off," Rush said.

"A lot of us have substantial damage. My house is completely inundated with water and silt. [It's] pretty dramatic. This is actually worse than 2004."

The February 2004 floods damaged about 200 homes and forced about 500 people to evacuate in Manawatū.

Rush has heard a Bailey bridge could be put up within a couple of days so people can get in and out of the area.

Until then she is staying with a neighbour and facing a massive clean-up.

As the waters rose on Wednesday, she saved what she could.

"I battled it. I had to go and rescue my dogs from their kennels. I've got little dogs and they were all floating in their kennels. They were swimming.

"I got them out and made sure they were safe. I just kept battling the torrent of water, and it was a torrent of water."

Her house is surrounded by waste from logging operations and silt. She is now hoping she can find a furniture truck to store her belongings.

Ruth Henchman also lives down Reu Reu Road.

She said of the two bridges in and out, one was washed away, while the other was covered in debris.

She praised residents for their resilience.

"The people out here are pretty self-sufficient and can stand on their own two feet pretty well. Everyone's banded together so amazingly.

"Everyone's supported each other and offered places to stay. Everyone's been amazing."

In the 24 hours to midday on Thursday, Feilding had about 60 millimetres of rain. It's had about 250mm for the month, well above average.

When a heavy shower fell this morning the town's western roads turned into streams of water, although they cleared quickly when the rain stopped.

On Wednesday evening the same roads were more like rivers.

On Gladstone Terrace, the lower floor of Megan Pirret's house filled with water as a stream next door swelled.

Today, a tide mark with duck weed sticking to every surface shows where the water lapped.

Megan's father Chris, who lives in the house, said the water was powerful enough to pick up a freezer of meat, and it destroyed many of his possessions.

"Everything you're looking at here has been under water," he said when standing in the two-storey home's lower floor," he said.

"We salvaged a little bit of stuff, like all my chainsaws and bikes, but all the bedding, the whole complete wash house is knackered, washing machine, dryer, microwave, all gone. It's saddening.

"Then the hard work starts. Head to head with the insurance companies now."

Next door Alicia Field also has a sopping ground floor.

She said the water came in two waves, the first just after 5pm on Wednesday and the next a couple of hours later. The gap between meant she could move some items into her upper floor.

One of her sons has a bedroom on her lower floor and the bed in there was picked up by the current.

"I had my grandmother's dressing table and things, but we were able to get that upstairs prior to the water coming in.

"It was honestly like a scene out of the Titanic, so you know where the water's coming up the hallway in the ship. It was like that. It was just running towards us in the garage."

Alicia Field and Chris Pirret stand in front of the stream that turned into a torrent.

Alicia Field and Chris Pirret in front of the stream that turned into a torrent. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Field said it was as if a river had come through.

By Thursday morning the water was gone, except what has soaked into furniture, walls and carpet. Field was waiting for workers to come around and see if the carpet could be dried out.

She and Chris Pirret said they were disappointed their homes were affected after council officials had previously told them it wouldn't happen. Pirret suspected runoff from housing developments hadn't helped.

At lunchtime the Manawatū District Council confirmed 26 homes in Feilding were flooded in the latest deluge, 12 people were evacuated, and many roads remained closed.

By late afternoon, council spokesman Ben Caldwell said about 50 properties had been assessed for damage.

Council officials had taken to the air in a helicopter to assess rural areas.