4 Jun 2015

Dunedin: High water and lucky escapes

11:36 pm on 4 June 2015

About 200 properties have been affected by flooding in Dunedin in what is being described as a one-in-one-hundred-year event, with about 175 millimetres of rain in 24 hours.

The rain eased today after dumping two months' rain in a single day on the city yesterday, overwhelming drainage systems, closing at least 15 streets and some schools, disrupting travel and forcing evacuations.

View a gallery of photos of south Dunedin on Wednesday and Thursday:

At a media briefing this afternoon, Civil Defence Controller Ruth Stokes said staff would have visited about 200 flood-damaged properties by the end of the day.

She said their call centre had received more than 3000 calls over the last 24 hours.

New Zealand Fire Service Area Commander Lawrence Voight said they had received 130 calls for assistance, and they had managed to respond to all of them.

South Dunedin has been hardest hit, with local MP Clare Curran describing it as a major disaster area. She said she had never seen anything like it.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has set up a mayoralty fund for those who may need help to get back into their homes. He has not disclosed the amount in the fund.

Mr Cull told Checkpoint the most immediate priority was for people to get their homes dried out and habitable.

He said for some people that would take a few days and the council has settled them in motels.

He said many roads have also been extensively damaged, and a big clean-up was needed for many others.

Appeal for help

The Dunedin City Council and Civil Defence were today urgently calling for volunteers to help with sandbagging, sweeping streets and cleaning up homes.

The council said about 30 people had visited its welfare centre in South Dunedin, which was set up at St James Presbyterian Church late this morning.

A council representative, Rebecca Williams, said there had been a steady trickle of people needing help, aged from those in their 20s through to the elderly, and people were also dropping off supplies to help others.

She said the centre would remain open until at least 6pm.

A car powers through floodwaters in south Dunedin on Thursday.

A car powers through floodwaters in south Dunedin on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

John and Sally Cunningham's house on Bay View Road

John and Sally Cunningham's house on Bay View Road Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The water came up through the floor boards of John and Sally Cunningham's house on Bay View Road, and was about 10 centimetres deep in the bathroom today.

"The whole carpet's all wet right through - we just have to see how we go ... The insurance would be overloaded at the moment, I'd say," he said.

"I'll see how long it takes to go down and then just try to dry her out, you know?"

South Dunedin resident Nick Bakehouse shows the water in his backyard.

South Dunedin resident Nick Bakehouse shows the water in his backyard. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Dangerous roads

A Dunedin man who crashed into a two-metre hole in the road caused by a slip along the Otago Peninsula said he would now be buying a lotto ticket.

Barry McCone was on his way home from work along Highcliff Road when he turned a corner and drove into the hole, with another car following him into it minutes later.

Mr McCone said it was pitch black and he had no cellphone coverage.

"Tried to open all the doors. No, they weren't opening. Tried kicking out the back window. It wasn't going. So I leaned on the horn for about five minutes and no-one heard that," he said.

"The lights were still going so I kind of hoped that someone would come past and see them. Just as I was thinking that, the other car landed beside me."

Mr McCone said the people in the other car were able to go for help.

Floodwaters also surrounded a woman's car this morning on the outskirts of Tapanui.

Police said she escaped to a nearby tree, where she was able to call emergency services, and the Fire Service went to her aid.

School closures, road disruption and power cuts

Power has been restored in East Taieri. Aurora Energy cut power to about 160 homes in the Dunedin suburb yesterday as a safety precaution, as electrical equipment was submerged in water.

Power remained out this afternoon to about eight consumers in Shetland Street in Wakari.

Several local roads and highways in and around Dunedin remain closed.

Primary and intermediate schools in Dunedin stayed closed this morning. Bathgate Park School principal Whetu Cormick said the decision was made because of uncertainty about the roads, and to keep all students and teachers safe.

High Schools Macandrew Bay School, Taieri College and Queens High School also stayed closed today.

Green Island School, a primary in the south of the city, was among schools affected yesterday. Assistant Principal Aaron Warrington told Morning Report that there were major traffic hold-ups this morning and surrounding areas were turning into a lake.

Water flooding back out of drains in Forbury Road, St Clair, at 9pm Wednesday 3 June.

Water flooding back out of drains in Forbury Road, St Clair, last night. Photo: RNZ / Darryl Baser

Surrey St, South Dunedin.

Water was still lying on roads and driveways on Thursday morning. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Water contamination checks

Dunedin City Council civil defence manager Neil Brown told Morning Report staff would assess properties today, including whether they have been contaminated by raw sewage, which may lead to more people being evacuated. If so, the council would talk to people about whether they needed temporary accommodation.

Hargest Crescent, where raw sewage washed into the road, was among the worst areas affected.

Courtney Lousley said in his 42 years living in the area said he had never seen any flooding come close to this.

Mr Lousley said none of his drains or toilets were working and he had sent his family to higher ground.

"Here, the water's got nowhere to go," he said. "I can't use my sink or anything because the water's not going away. I've sent the family away. I'm just battening down really unless I have to put stuff up high."

Another resident, Mark O'Gorman, said he did not blame the council's drainage system as others had.

"I do a bit of engineering so I can understand that when it goes like this, the water levels can't be retained because this is just a low-lying area," Mr Gorman said. "It's a freak event."

Mr Cull said the stormwater system in the south of the city needed to be improved for the future.

He told Morning Report South Dunedin was one of the lowest lying areas in the country, and had very old infrastructure. That would pose a big challenge as sea levels rose over the next 20 to 30 years, but more analysis was needed before any infrastructure upgrade could go ahead.

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