22 Jun 2015

'Beautiful' meeting house flooded

8:49 pm on 22 June 2015

Pūtiki Marae in Whanganui has been badly hit by the flooding that has inundated parts of the city - and other parts of the North Island - over the last few days.

Pūtiki Marae's wharenui lies below ground level and, during the flood, had water as high as 60cm up its interior pillars.

Pūtiki Marae's wharenui lies below ground level and, during the flood, had water as high as 60cm up its interior pillars. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

A stream of floodwater has been running through the meeting house, Te Paku o Te Rangi.

The marae lies very close to the river, not far from the Cobham Bridge on State Highway Three.

Adrian Te Patu, who is from the marae, said it was thought to be only the second time it had flooded in its 200-plus year history.

"The meeting house is a very unusual one. It is a traditional marae meeting house, where you step down into it, and so the water has got in," he said.

"We saw some of the photos that came up and were posted on Facebook, which showed some of the mattresses floating in there the other night, so we are all very sad. It is a very beautiful meeting house."

Waka shifted by the storm outside Pūtiki Marae.

Waka shifted by the storm outside Pūtiki Marae. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The four marae administered by Ngāti Apa fared better than Pūtiki, including Kauangaroa Marae, which suffered badly in the 2004 floods.

This time, the grounds were flooded but the buildings have remained undamaged.

Some families living near the Kauangaroa Marae were evacuated to higher ground while marae along the Whangaehu River also came close to flooding.

Mark Pirikahu, who has been co-ordinating Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Apa's response, said some people have almost nothing left.

"Down in Whangaehu, one of our elders and her two grandchildren lost everything, so what they currently wear on themselves is what they owned. Everything else has gone."

Adrian Rurawhe, the MP for Te Tai Hauauru, has been moving through the rohe assessing the damage, and said the flooding had not only devastated Whanganui but rural areas as well.

"There are slips on hills and then, of course, all of the silt that is brought down by the rivers settles on the land, and so there will be a big effort to put the land right again and get the grass growing again. Yes, it is pretty devastating."

Mr Rurawhe said a major clean-up would soon begin at the various marae.

"Removing silt from the marae area... There will have to be a decision made if the water has got into the buildings, and the water damage to the floors in particular, and that will have to be assessed and whether or not it will be replaced."

Council inspectors assess houses in flood-prone areas in Whanganui,

Council inspectors assess houses in flood-prone areas in Whanganui, Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

A local man, Jay Rerekura, lives in Whanganui East and has only just been able to get out of the area this afternoon.

"So there is a little bit of clean-up that is happening at the moment," he said.

"Civil Defence is trying to co-ordinate all of that with people who are from the local communities, who have rallied in behind, and they have their shovels and gumboots ready to go.

"Basically, contamination from sewage is the biggest worry, so they are trying to make sure that people are not just going in and getting stuck in to clean up mud, and getting sick as a result."

Gerrard Albert, a tribal negotiator for the Whanganui River, believed the flooding would teach people an important lesson.

"The river will flood and, when it floods, that is its will, and we need as people to understand our place in the river scheme and be happy with it.

"Not withstanding that, I am aware that people have been disadvantaged greatly by the loss of possessions and in some cases livelihood."

Enhanced Taskforce Green, which employs local beneficiaries, has been activated by the Government and some of those workers may be available to help clean up marae.

Whanganui resident Jimmy helps clear away mud from the back of his neighbour's property.

Whanganui resident Jimmy helps clear away mud from the back of his neighbour's property. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The Whanganui River ordinarily, and this morning.

An image posted on Twitter shows the Whanganui River on a normal day (top) and during this weekend's flooding. Photo: Twitter / @adzebill

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