30 Jan 2023

Auckland flooding: Māngere residents say they felt abandoned and traumatised

10:36 pm on 30 January 2023
Māngere resident Pauline Ekieleu standing next to a skip bin full of furniture that was ruined by floodwaters and is now set for the dump.

Māngere resident Pauline Ekieleu standing next to a skip bin full of furniture that was ruined by floodwaters and is now set for the dump. Photo: RNZ / Jonty Dine

Fear, panic and anger gripped the residents of Māngere on Friday night as they felt abandoned while a wall of water roared through the streets.

Children and elderly were left to brave the torrents to get to safety after their homes were rapidly flooded.

30 January - Red level weather warnings (the most severe warnings) are currently in place for Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula. Because of this the National Emergency Management Agency has issued a safety warning that the forecast heavy rain could cause flooding, slips and damage. Scroll down to find the full list of their advice for keeping safe.

Māngere community leader Dave Letele told Checkpoint the official response to the disaster was slow on Friday when it happened.

"It was slow and ineffective and a lot of it was just really disgraceful the way it was handled - for me looking at the council there's no team there, but it starts at the top you know," he said.

"You need that leader to lead by example and then you have your generals underneath you and you're all working to the same plan - the problem here is there was no plan."

Letele said he stood by his call for Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown to resign.

"This was his opportunity to really stand up and he hasn't."

While Brown today acknowledged that there were some "hiccups" in the communication response on Friday, he said a review into all officials' actions would be undertaken.

"I accept that communications including mine and my office were not good enough, especially on Friday night.

"I don't think I personally did anything wrong."

He said the criticism would not lead to his resignation.

Letele said community organisations could see the results of the lack of response and slow decisions.

"The results of it is families being left to fend for themselves, kids sleeping on wet mattresses, people sleeping in cars, not knowing how to access any help that's available."

Help was available but initially people did not know how to access it, although thankfully the message was getting out now, he said.

The evacuation point for South Auckland was set up in Randwick Park in Manurewa which was a long way from Māngere which was the epicentre of the flood, he said.

They still need basic supplies such as food, blankets and donations, Letele said.

With her three young grandchildren aged one, three and five in the house, Teina Tutai feared for their lives as water breached their home.

"I just didn't know what to do, I was helpless. They were crying, I said we will be all right but they kept singing 'my God loves me'. That's the thing that hurts me the most. They were crying and singing: 'my God loves me'."

Tutai said it was terrifying.

"It's just like a river was streaming down our street right through everyone's houses."

Fortunately, her niece came to the rescue.

"She came and took all the children out though all this water, it was so deep. She is our hero, she saved our grandchildren."

With the children out of harm's way, it was now for Tutai and her ailing partner to wade through the neck-high deluge.

"Whatever we got on us we just walked through, no shoes, nothing at all."

Debris left by the flood in Pito Place in Māngere.

Debris left by the flood in Pito Place in Māngere. Photo: RNZ / Jonty Dine

She described a completely chaotic scene outside.

"We had to hold onto the fence and the next minute the fence just came off we grabbed another one, then we saw two women being swept away by the water and this guy was chasing after the two ladies."

It took her and her partner over an hour to make the short walk around the corner to her niece's house.

"The current was strong, very strong."

It was an excruciating wait for her mokopuna.

"When I walked in the house and saw all my grandchildren I was so happy."

Almost nothing can be salvaged from her home.

"Everything, I've lost everything. Council came yesterday and said they can't do anything and told us to get out of the house. We can't stay here."

A yellow stickered Māngere house stating residents are only allowed short term entry to the building which has been damaged.

A yellow stickered Māngere house stating residents are only allowed short term entry to the building which has been damaged. Photo: RNZ / Jonty Dine

She said she had been left traumatised by the ordeal and did not know what she would do next.

"Honestly, I don't know. I can't sleep. I'm still thinking about what happened that night."

Faiga Pulepule said the flood struck suddenly.

"Everybody was rushing outside and screaming, we didn't even see it coming. We just opened the door and it was already on our doorstep."

The distressing reality then set in.

"We could see people walking through the water which was past their waist and they were carrying the kids overhead."

After seeking refuge at his sister's, the whānau could only imagine what was happening to their home.

"So we just sat and talked, we didn't sleep all night."

Flood damaged items in the backyard of a Māngere house.

Flood damaged items in the backyard of a Māngere house. Photo: RNZ / Jonty Dine

Compounding the crisis, the water was also filled with human waste.

"They tested the water, and said it was mixed with the sewerage overflow so everything the water touched is no good. It was so brown."

With everything inside his house contaminated, Pulepule said it was going to be a long and costly recovery.

"Maybe close to fifty grand."

Pauline Ekieleu has physical limitations due to surgery and could only watch the horror unfold.

"I just stood at the window looking out because I couldn't do anything. I'm sick so if I went out there, I would end up in hospital."

She said they were given no warning at all.

"We got no time to grab everything, we tried to put some things on the table then we ran upstairs and the next minute it is climbing up."

Tutai said she was angry that they were essentially abandoned.

"There was no help on the night for anyone here, there was no help. They had to put an old man on an air bed. There was no-one."

Residents whose homes survived Friday's flood say they are on edge with more wet weather scheduled to hit the region this week.

Because of the red level weather warnings issued for Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula, the National Emergency Management Agency has posted advice on how to keep safe:

  • Red weather warnings are the most severe warnings. The forecast weather could cause further flooding, slips and damage
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • Stay away from floodwater. Always assume that all flood water is potentially contaminated and ensure hands, clothes and property are thoroughly cleaned after contact with flood waters
  • It is important to clean and dry your house and everything in it. Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater, including things stored in containers
  • Information about where to get help can be found on the Civil Defence website and from Auckland Emergency Management

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