22 Jun 2015

A long Saturday night in Waitotara

9:25 am on 22 June 2015

Residents of Waitotara are seeking answers over their evacuation from their homes over the weekend, with some saying they were forced to sleep in their cars.

Waitotara township

Waitotara in flood for the second time in 11 years. Photo: SUPPLIED

They say there was confusion over evacuation centre opening times and found no vacancy signs where they were told to expect a place to stay.

Others have complained of chaotic and heavy-handed treatment as floodwaters rose on Saturday night.

When the Waitotara residents returned to their homes on Sunday they were greeted by the sight of 10-20cm of silt-laden murky brown water lapping in and around their houses.

If that wasn't bad enough some, like James Takarangi, who left their homes late on Saturday night as the Waitotara River rose unexpectedly, found the welfare centre at Waverly a little wanting.

"They came and got us and evacuated us and told us there was accommodation up at Waverly but it was all full up so we slept in our cars," said Mr Takarangi whose home had a layer of silt throughout his living room.

"We went to the rec centre for a cup of tea, that's all it was for and the we just found out there was no more accommodation so slept in the car."

James Takarangi mops out his Waitotara home. Whanganui flood.

James Takarangi mops out his Waitotara home. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop said there was confusion caused by the centre first being opened at 4pm, closed at 6pm, then reopened as the nature of the crisis became clearer.

"What happened is that it was opened and then it wasn't thought there was going to be a problem with flooding of the river so it was closed and then we got some more information about just how high the river was in the headwaters and thought it should be reopened so that did create a little bit of confusion.

Mr Dunlop was adamant, however, that there were beds available.

"There was enough accommodation for people if they really needed it so I was surprised to hear that some people had stayed the night in their cars."

Others residents were angry at the way they were hustled out of their homes.

Bradley Bowlin says his grandmother, Dot, was handcuffed and allegedly thrown to the ground as police evacuated about 100 people from the village.

"The police come and they tried to evacuate us. They came once and then they said we're coming back later.

"And they came back again, and by that stage they said everyone is getting out so they grabbed my grandmother and they arrested her and she had to lock up her house still and then they were throwing her around.

"They just treated all the old people with disrespect."

Mr Bowlin said his grandmother who is 67-years-old wanted to stay.

"She was staying she wasn't going to go because she still go her livestock to look after and the fact that her house wasn't even locked up, we still had things to move.

"They arrested her, threw her up against the bus everything and then they chucked her on the ground. I watched them do that."

Senior Sergeant Brian Rook of the Waverly police said he was aware of the issue with Dot Bowlin, but he was unable to shed much light on the incident.

"I know the woman and yes she was placed in handcuffs, but whether she was thrown to the ground or not I can't comment on that. I wasn't here, I was down at the beach and couldn't get out and wasn't part of that process at all."

Earlier in the day Waitotara residents had been advised to evacuate but it was left to their own discretion.

The flooding was not expected to be too bad, but then a faulty water meter in the upper reaches of the river sprang back into life.

As a result, a state of emergency was declared at 10pm giving authorities the power to evacuate people.

Senior Sergeant Rook said some people probably thought they would be okay, but the situation for the police was clear in such cases.

"It is for the safety of everybody its not just for the safety of one or two.

"So the call is made for the whole village to be evacuated and unfortunately some people are going to feel they were unjustifiably removed from their houses but you can't leave some behind and take others because that just creates mayhem."

With the flood behind them now the all too familiar clean up begins for the Waitotara residents. The last time the settlement was flooded was just 11 years ago.

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