20 Jun 2011

Ohope houses unsafe to occupy after landslide

8:22 pm on 20 June 2011

Whakatane District Council says three houses in the beach settlement of Ohope have been issued with a red notice, indicating they are unsafe to occupy, after a fatal landslide.

Whakatane District Council civil defence controller Diane Turner says at least one of the houses will have to be demolished and the other two be assessed by the Earthquake Commission.

She says a detailed assessment of the site needs to be done before the area can be made safe.

As well, four houses in Muriwai Drive in Whakatane have been given an orange notice, which means people must evacuate when there is heavy rain.

Hugh Biddle, 17, died on Saturday when dirt and trees loosened by torrential rain smashed into his bedroom in Ohope. Residents used their hands and an axe to try to free the teenager from the buried back part of the West End Road house.

Several other houses in the area were evacuated and police issued a warning that a large tree might fall down the cliff on houses below.

The escarpment that runs alongside the road facing Ohope Beach is well known for its pohutukawa trees.

Mayor Tony Bonne says when the ground is saturated, nothing can stop the huge trees from being uprooted.

Ms Turner says some residents are paying for a report to look into the escarpment's vegetation. They have asked the council to help with the costs.

Mr Bonne says there have been five landslides in the district in the past 18 months and 100-plus events caused by rain. "If they don't stop, financially for our district it's crippling."

The weekend rain caused 10 slips of various sizes in Ohope, and another in Whakatane.

Desperate rescue attempt

A man who tried to free Hugh Biddle says Saturday's slip sounded like thunder.

Residents along West End Road described rain that caused the landslide as a torrential downpour with water running off the hills like a brown river.

Mike van der Boom lives close to the house in which the teenager was trapped and ran over to help after the landslide happened.

Mr van der Boom says his wife has cuts all over her hands after trying to get dirt and glass out of his room.