17 Feb 2023

Flooded cemetery exposes graves, bones in Hawke's Bay town Omahu

7:38 pm on 17 February 2023
Kids helping move damaged property to the roadside ready for pickup by the Army in Omahu

Kids helping move damaged property to the roadside ready for pickup by the Army in Omahu Photo: RNZ/Sally Murphy

Residents in the small settlement of Omahu in Hawke's Bay spent the day throwing their flood stricken belongings on the street, and dealing with the exposed graves and bones that have been found in the debris.

Locals were forced to flee on Tuesday morning when the Ngaruroro River rose so high it tore through the stop bank designed to protect the town, and are now hoping someone will come and collect the rubbish that is piling up in the


Omahu resident Hamoira Sciascia has a trailer in her drive, with all her processions covered in mud and piled on top of each other.

"It's all stuffed, everything is destroyed, we've just ripped up the wet carpet to try and stop the floorboards from rotting," Sciascia said.

"I was telling people no photos yesterday because I don't want people to see my house like this, ya know, it's devastating."

Flood damaged property dumped on the roadside in Omahu

Photo: RNZ/Sally Murphy

Sciascia, her partner, and two children, aged one and two, got out on Tuesday but were counting their blessings they were able to.

"It came up so quick, the river is behind us and there are streams either side, so the water rose so quick, I've never seen anything like, you see it happening on the news and you think oh that will never happen here, but it bloody did."

The night before the horror unfolded Sciascia could not sleep so packed a go bag with essentials like water supplies for her children and food.

"Something was telling me 'No get ready be ready to go'."

The mother of two got upset thinking of her children, who were staying with relatives in a nearby town.

"They're just so unsettled, they haven't had a meal because they won't eat you know, I miss my kids I just miss spending time with them but I'm bust with this bloody mess of a house."

Flood damaged property is piling up on the streets of Omahu in Hawkes Bay.

Flood damaged property is piling up on the streets of Omahu in Hawkes Bay. Photo: Sally Murphy

'The floods have exposed graves'

Further down the road at the local marae teams were water blasting mud off the buildings, clearing out the whare kai and folding donated clothing into piles.

Marae chairman Meihana Watson said the town had to deal with damage to the local cemetery.

"The floods have exposed graves and bones have been found in the flood debris up against fences.

"Elders have visited and traditional blessings have taken place, once everything settles down traditional customs will be followed to return them to the cemetery."

Ngāti Kahungunu said floodwaters had unearthed kōiwi at its urupa at Omahu.

Whānau were assessing damage to the urupa, but the health risks from the scattered kōiwi were high.

Hapū leaders were waiting for expert advice on how to deal with the kōiwi, Ngāti Kahungunu said.

Meihana Watson

Meihana Watson Photo: Sally Murphy

Watson said the entire area had been hard hit and people were suffering.

"It's had a big impact on the community, we had people on top of their homes, elderly residents staying in their homes because they are generational homes, if they wash away the people will go with them, my parents were in that group so yeah the majority oft his community is gone, water right through everything."

Watson said the community had rallied together with offers of help from residents higher up who had not been impacted.

"This is a mixed community but we've come together as one - Pākehā further up the hill have been bringing down their furniture for people who have nothing.

"Local fruit growers have dropped off produce they had in storage that hasn't been affected and professional boxer David Letele in Auckland called me I don't even know how he has my number but he called to say there is $5000 worth of vouchers for the community waiting at PAK n'SAVE."

Locals help out at the Omahu marae.

Locals help out at the Omahu marae. Photo: Sally Murphy

Watson was feeling run down.

"It's just frustrating because we haven't even seen that kind of support from our own ... that's not just me saying that , the whole community is asking.

"We've just had to get on with things without them we need to try and get through this. The big needs for us is really just people on the ground with resources, lots of shovels, wheelbarrows, just to get everything that's not needed out.

"We have a lot of elderly people in the community, grandparents looking after grandchildren, they are going to need help."

National Emergency Management Agency advice:

  • Put safety first. Don't take any chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
  • Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater: even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • If you don't need to evacuate, support those who do by staying home, staying off roads and staying safe.
  • If you are not able to contact your whānau in the heavily affected areas go to Police 105 website and complete the inquiry form or phone 105 and remember to update if you reconnect through other means.
  • Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater as it is often contaminated and can make you sick.
  • If you are without power eat the food from your fridge first, then your freezer. Then eat the food in the cupboard or your emergency kit.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services.
  • A National State of Emergency is in place for an initial period of seven days and applies to regions that have declared a local State of Emergency.

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