Burials remain on hold in Tairāwhiti due to high groundwater levels

3:20 pm on 28 July 2023
Flooding at Tolaga Bay cemetery.

Flooding at Tolaga Bay cemetery. Photo: Matthew Rosenberg / LDR

High groundwater levels across Tai Rāwhiti continue to suspend burials, with a large pond forming next to graves at one East Coast site.

In Ūawa/Tolaga Bay, the water level is so high at the sodden local cemetery, water has submerged a grave in one section.

A lake has also formed just metres from the fence line in a paddock adjacent to the main area of the cemetery, threatening to break through if rain persists.

Gisborne District Council liveable communities director Michele Frey said ponding was now common at burial sites across the district, made worse by frequent heavy rain north of Ūawa/Tolaga Bay.

"This is the longest we've ever been in this situation due to the amount of rain we've had, and we're just very grateful for the understanding of our community," Frey said.

"Unfortunately, there have been disruptions to burials right across our district since Cyclone Gabrielle.

"As a council, we work closely with whānau and funeral directors to support families who are not able to have a burial for their loved ones."

Burials were considered on a plot-by-plot basis at Ūawa Cemetery and would go ahead if there was sufficient ground cover, she said.

Flooding at Tolaga Bay cemetery.

Flooding at Tolaga Bay cemetery. Photo: Matthew Rosenberg / LDR

Gisborne's main cemetery, Taruheru, remains on a suspension due to a high water table and has been closed for burials intermittently since before Cyclone Gabrielle.

It was unlikely the council would be able to offer a regular burial service until rainfall levels decreased and the groundwater level dropped, Frey said.

In the meantime, the council was accommodating ash interments, and was considering long-term options to future-proof the service.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs