21 Aug 2022

Households, communities stunned by storm and flood damage

10:22 pm on 21 August 2022

About 100 flood-affected people pleading for help at a meeting in Nelson have been told it will be a long road to recovery, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives to survey damage.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other government officials visit Nelson Tasman Civil Defence offices as recovery from last week's flooding continues.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other government officials visit Nelson Tasman Civil Defence offices as recovery from last week's flooding continues. Photo: Supplied / Nelson Tasman Civil Defence

Hundreds of people have been evacuated due to landslides and the Maitai River flooding.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other government officials arrived in Nelson tonight and met with Nelson Tasman Civil Defence officials. She will also be there tomorrow to inspect damage and meet with locals.

A state of emergency remains in place for Nelson and Marlborough, and some rivers in the top of the South Island have had their biggest floods on record.

This afternoon, an engineer, a hydrologist, the region's mayors and government support agencies met with locals at the Saxton Stadium.

Mayor Rachel Reese told those at the meeting that everything possible will be done to help them.

"It's going to be probably years until we get through this.

"But right now, we have some very immediate needs. And one of the most important needs we have is helping you get back into your homes and get back to your normal daily life."

One man pleaded for help.

"Me and our wife ... when our house went down, we lost everything.

"We're so devastated because it's been in our family for many generations and we've lost everything because all that we've got is our van to sleep in.

"If anyone could help us that could be real good, financially, get us a new home. Please, help us!"

Another woman who lives in Rai Valley and commutes to Nelson for work said she is stranded because of damaged roads.

"I haven't been home since Wednesday morning and I'm understanding that State Highway 6 is going to be closed for the foreseeable future.

"When will there be access to Rai Valley and if State Highway 6 is going to be closed for the foreseeable, for people like me that commute, what does that mean for jobs and, life in general?"

Flooding in Atawhai in Nelson

Flooding has been the worst in decades in Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Nelson residents are being asked to work from home where possible next week as crews continue repairing roads.

Council group manager of infrastructure Alec Louverdis said there is particular concern about one of the main routes, Waimea Road.

Louverdis said fewer vehicles on the main roads will prevent them from deteriorating further.

He said there have been discussions with schools and the Ministry of Education, about home learning.

"A decision not taken lightly, we've realised we've just come out of Covid, and we're just getting back to some normality with people starting to come back to schools and interact, and our education system getting back up and running but unfortunately we need to take preference in terms of protecting our roading corridor."

It is hoped most of the homes in Nelson that were damaged by flooding and slips will be assessed by late tomorrow afternoon.

Five hundred and seventy properties have been damaged and 284 have been assessed.

Nine have been given red stickers, indicating they are uninhabitable.

Louverdis said a process is in place to assess them.

More rain expected tomorrow

In Wellington, where hundreds of landslides have followed weeks of rain, authorities warned drivers to take care because some slips and road damage could not immediately be cleared because of the widespread damage.

This slip at Mahina Bay near Eastbourne in Lower Hutt reached the edge of a busy arterial road and caught a Tesla in its path.

This slip at Mahina Bay near Eastbourne in Lower Hutt reached the edge of a busy arterial road and caught a parked Tesla in its path. Photo: RNZ/ Elizabeth Brown

Civil Defence and emergency services in Marlborough are trying to reach cut-off communities with essential medication and welfare necessities and to move some at-risk patients out.

MetService said while the worst of the heavy rain was over for Nelson and Marlborough they were not yet in the clear.

Meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said heavy rain is expected tomorrow, and a small amount of rain was passing through today.

Nelson's total rainfall so far this August had already surpassed the average for this month by more than three times, she said.

Marlborough mayor John Leggett said the damage to infrastructure varied and some was "eye-watering". The list of what remained affected included the drinking water supply, cellphone coverage, and the power supply in different areas.

Crews were working to fix immediate issues today, but the wider recovery would take years, he said.

"What we do know from the reports that are coming in is that the recovery and welfare phase is going to be a very long term process. There's significant damage out there, particularly to roads and some of the community facilities."

Many local roads in Marlborough remained closed, because of slips.

In the Marlborough Sounds power repair crews were being deployed by boat and helicopter where road access was cut off.

Blenheim remains cut off from Nelson with State Highways 63 and 6 extensively damaged by landslides and flooding. The only alternative was a lengthy drive via Lewis Pass.

Flooding in Blenheim. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

More than 500 homes were evacuated in the Whakatū Nelson area due to flooding and slips, with some already red or orange stickered by assessors, and deemed too unsafe for the residents to return.

Officials said the number of landslips in the district was immeasurable.

Nelson flood damage in Atawhai as seen on 19 August 2022.

One of the homes in Nelson that was inundated by the heavy rain. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Nelson City Council was sourcing water from its neighbour, the Tasman District Council, to service eastern areas such as Stoke, while it assesses flood damage to its own network.

The council said the treatment plant was working and doing its job of filtering the water, which continues to be chlorinated and is safe to drink. However, some residents wre experiencing discolouration, or a loss of pressure.

Nelson resident Mark Sheehan said the amount of damage caused to his property this week was 'surreal'.

"Our garage, and particularly our back section are pretty much been destroyed, it's something to behold - about 3 feet of silt through your back yard and so on. The landscaping's gone, fences, the gardens, the paths have just been carted off ... into the ocean I guess, and all that's left is a big pile of mud."

Up to fifty houses on Nile Street had mud pour through their properties, he said.

He had been approved to re-enter his house, which remained safe because it was elevated.

Maggie Gray's Nelson house was orange-stickered, and she called for more resources to be brought in from other towns to speed up the cleanup.

She said urgent changes were needed in the forestry industry to help reduce flooding problems.

Tree debris, known as slash, that was left over from forestry harvesting could worsen the effects of heavy rain and floods as it clogs drainage points after being washed down from the hills

Gray hoped to return to her home in the next few days, but did not know when she would be allowed to.

Wellington City Council warned more slips could come down in the next few days as heavy rain continued in the capital.

In the past two days alone, 130 weather-related incidents had been reported, and at least eight households were evacuated in Wellington yesterday after landslides.

A large fallen tree blocking the Paekākāriki Hill Road near the Gray's Road intersection on Wednesday 10 August 2022.

A slip on the Paekākāriki Hill road. Photo: Supplied / Darling Tawera

City council Chief Infrastructure Officer Siobhan Proctor said there had been about 550 slips in the past six weeks due to persistent rain.

Crews were focussing on clearing arterial routes, but the council said motorists and pedestrians should continue to take care because smaller slips might not be cleared immediately.

Several roads in the city remain closed, including Takarau Gorge Road between Johnsonville and Makara, and Harbour View Road in Northland.

A large landslide fell onto three cars in Wellington's Sutherland Cresent, Melrose, on Saturday 20 August, 2022.

Sutherland Crescent in Melrose was still closed after a slip fell onto three cars. Photo: Supplied

The main road in Tawa between Victory and McLellan Streets remained closed.

And The Terrace between Ghuznee Street and Buller Street also remained closed to traffic following last week's large landslide. Dry weather was needed before geotechnical engineers could decide whether the slip face was stable.

Ngaio Gorge was reopened.

In Lower Hutt a large slip is blocking part of Wainuiomata hill road and traffic was down to one lane.

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