14 May 2015

Rush to save Kōkiri marae

9:13 pm on 14 May 2015

Māori in Lower Hutt have spent the day bailing rainwater out of Kōkiri marae, in a desperate attempt to reduce damage from the storm that has caused chaos in the Wellington region.

The water started pouring into the marae in Seaview at around 12pm, and people have been using pillows and mattresses as sandbags to try and soak up the water.

The entrance to Kokiri Marae, in Seaview, Lower Hutt

The entrance to Kokiri Marae, in Seaview, Lower Hutt Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

The marae's general manager, Tina Olsen-Ratana, said the babies in its kōhanga reo were evacuated first.

She said there was alarm as the waters rose.

"People were yelling from all sides of the marae that water was starting to come in through the walls. The water was coming from every angle into the marae.

"The road is all under water and parts inside are up to my knees."

Ms Olsen-Ratana said they rang the Fire Service, but all it could do was check the gutters and drains were clear of rubbish.

She said the problem was not that the drains are blocked, but that because of the built up areas of development around the marae, it now sits at the lowest point.

Their next step was to ring Hirepool to get a pump so they could keep up with the deluge of rain, but she said Hirepool was unable to get to the marae because of the blocked roads.

"We had a little pump here and we were trying to pump it out, and the water was subsiding, but then the rain started again."

Ms Olsen-Ratana said nearly 100 people have been helping them.

"We've had people come from Wellington, they've heard through Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and they're starting to flood in to help."

She said the students and staff all stripped down, got barefoot, and grabbed any container they could find to bail out the water.

"I keep telling them it's better to run around in your undies than run around in your pants and get wet."

Ms Olsen-Ratana said they put music on to keep people's spirits up, but now the reality of the damage was sinking in.

"As the rain keeps coming everyone is getting a bit sad, we are just moving like an arm,y really. There's no time to be sad, we have just got to do the best we can."

She said people had to be sent home to get dry clothes, but all they wanted to do was stay and protect the marae which they see as their taonga [treasure].

Ms Olsen-Ratana said they had used every pillow and mattress they could find as sandbags to hold the water back, but were worried about how much rain is yet to come.

"We've got those vacuum things to try and suck excess water out of the mattresses so we can use them for the next downpour."

She said they have no idea yet of the scale of the clean-up or the cost.

"There is going to be a hell of a mess to clean up after all this. Where I'm sitting it's looking like a disaster zone."