29 Jan 2024

Auckland's rain-soaked recurring nightmare

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 29 January 2024

Auckland's landscape has changed forever after the storms that hit a year ago - and residents dealing with slips are still living a nightmare. 

Paturoa Rd in Titirangi a year apart - the tide has come in but little else has changed

Paturoa Rd in Titirangi a year apart - the tide has come in but little else has changed Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

Every night Aleysha Knowles and her son go off to bedrooms she's been warned are too dangerous to sleep in.

She keeps a close eye on the cracks in the walls but experts have told her she's safe.

"The worst that will ever, ever, ever happen is my neighbour will crack off me, and they've said that that's not life threatening," she says.

Knowles is one of thousands of homeowners in Auckland living with the after-effects of last year's Auckland anniversary disaster. She's still waiting for the result of an assessment on her property that will determine whether she can stay in what she thought was her forever home.

Her case is more complicated than most because she shares a firewall with the adjoining red-stickered house (she was yellow-stickered) and the property is cross leased, common share, meaning she is a 50/50 co-owner of the land.

"It's proving very complicated to try and split a settlement," she says.

From her deck, Knowles points to the container ship-sized slip that swept into the gully of native bush and undermined her neighbour's foundations, the terrified tenants rushing out, never to return.

Aleysha Knowles at her Birkenhead property where a massive slip has put her financial future in jeopardy.

Aleysha Knowles at her Birkenhead property where a massive slip has put her financial future in jeopardy. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

"That was a horrific sound just listening to the foundations of the balcony just falling down into the bush. The sound of trees being ripped out and washed away, it's a sound I'll never forget."

On Friday January 27, 2023, Auckland had 245 mm of rainfall in 24 hours  - the previous record was 161 mm in 1985. Four people died, more than 26,000 properties lost power, more than 3,000 properties lost drinking water, Auckland Airport was forced to shut, flights were cancelled dozens of roads were closed.

Thousands of properties are being risk-assessed by Auckland Council and most owners will find out by the end of March whether they fit into the low-risk Category 1 or Category 2 where they may be able fix their properties, or the highest risk Category 3, making them eligible for a voluntary council buy-out.

Knowles explains to The Detail why she's hoping to be told she's Category 2P, which will mean that she can fix up the property and continue to live there. 

Through stickered resident groups she knows the toll the uncertainty has taken on people from relationship splits to financial disaster. She says the tough year has hurt her financially and personally.

"It affected my parenting, I became very preoccupied, almost verging on obsessive with getting everything sorted quickly."

Across the city in Titirangi, councillor Shane Henderson is standing over another container ship-sized hole on Paturoa Road.

"I'm staring at a terrifying slip in front of me in Titirangi, I think we should try and fix this one up," he says.

He's shocked it is unfixed 12 months after it was brought down in the deluge, taking a big chunk of road and a driveway, and exposing several timber piles. 

Paturoa road resident Sandy in front of the gaping hole that was once her driveway.

Paturoa road resident Sandy in front of the gaping hole that was once her driveway. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

Nothing has changed except the slip is covered by black plastic sheeting -  the same material that covers other nearby slips.

Fixing the road is a priority, says Henderson, but it won't be quick.

"There's been a hell of a process that we have to get through and do a lot of the fixes, as you can see. Securing the fund, securing the expertise has been an issue in many cases. Shortages of all manner of professionals, all these kind of barriers that are annoying and horrible for us. Essentially building a road into the hillside of Waitakere is extremely difficult and expensive."

"Westies" as he calls his constituents are still hurting from the disaster and Titirangi, on the edge of the Waitakere ranges, is one of the hardest hit suburbs.

"Honestly the hardest thing is people sharing their stories of mental health and family breakup. That's kind of the hidden problem that you don't necessarily see on the surface.

"Within these communities there's a lot of desperation."

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