31 Oct 2015

'The first time I've really met the neighbours'

9:41 am on 31 October 2015

Work will begin today on building a temporary road for Upper Hutt residents isolated - though drawn together - by a bridge failure.


Photo: RNZ/Max Towle

Floodwaters on Thursday damaged the middle pier of the bridge over the Akatarawa River in the suburb of Birchville, forcing its closure and affecting 62 homes.

Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy said the bridge had been regularly inspected, despite claims by some locals that it was not properly maintained.

The next two weeks would be spent clearing a vehicle route through the Akatarawa Forest as a temporary measure, the city council said.

In the meantime, residents have to clamber for an hour through bush just to leave home.

Broken bridge unites isolated neighbours

Some members of the community are meeting each other for the first time, united by a broken bridge which will isolate them for weeks.

The other side, and the main Akatarawa Road between Upper Hutt and Waikanae, is only metres away, but frustratingly out of reach.

Hundreds of people face two weeks of having to clamber for an hour through the bush just to leave home, after surging floodwaters took out their main access point on Thursday night.

It will take at least that long for the Upper Hutt City Council to push a three-metre wide track for cars through the Akatarawa Forest to the newly isolated households.

And it will be six months before a whole new bridge can be built.

The council said it can send in emergency provisions for anyone who physically can't make the one-hour walk.

Retiree Ariejan Ruarey is taking a stoic view of things.

"We did the shopping on Wednesday so we've got plenty of food in the house," he said.

"We're isolated anyway so we're not too worried anyway - it is what it is."

About 70 properties have been cut off by the bridge failure.

About 70 properties have been cut off by the bridge failure. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Prison guard Vili Talaepa's six young children are actually enjoying it.

"We need to do a grocery run so we're going to walk through the track and there's someone waiting for us on the other side to take us to Pak'nSave.

But further down the road, Margo said the council was making her life hell. She had phoned them but wasn't receiving the answers she was looking for.

"Nobody knows anything or has anything to add," she said.

Luanne Brooks' daughter is staying with a friend on the other, accessible, side of the river, leaving her alone with the dog.

She was not surprised the bridge buckled.

"When I came over, dropping my daughter off from school, there was a weird feeling about it... the road is always bouncy, but this was more rocky than usual," she said.

"There's been no maintenance on it since I moved here in 1987."

Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy insisted the last survey was done 18 months ago.

But Terri Fordham, who has lived on the street for 40 years, agreed with Luanne Brooks.

"There was a weight restriction on the bridge and then the farm up the back started doing forestry and the logging trucks came and they took the weight sign away," she said.

She expected to trek through the bush everyday.

The bridge at Bridge Road in the Upper Hutt suburb of Birchville has visibly slumped.

The bridge at Bridge Road in the Upper Hutt suburb of Birchville has visibly slumped. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

As half-a-dozen neighbours looked out across the bridge, one suggested sneaking across at night when the workers in fluoro have gone home.

Ms Brooks said it was ironic it had taken something like this to bring together the neighbourhood.

"There's people that have lived here 17 years and never even met each other," she said.

"I'm a bit of a homebody - I work and then I'm home - I walk the dog and say 'G'day', but never more than that.

"This is the first time I've really met the neighbours."

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