2 May 2014

Army helps Buller clean up after storm

9:04 am on 2 May 2014

The Army has arrived in the Buller district to assist with the clean-up after Cyclone Ita.

Twenty-five armed forces personnel from Burnham arrived in the region on Thursday night and are starting work Friday to with help with the clean up.

The engineers will help clear roads, tracks and gardens as the region comes to terms with one of the biggest storms in recent memory.

Westport was completely isolated after the huge April storm hit.

Westport was completely isolated after the huge April storm hit. Photo: PHOTO NZ

And now the community is looking at whether more can be done to avoid it becoming so isolated, should another bad storm hit.

Westport was completely isolated in the immediate aftermath of the storm with no power, both the town's supermarkets damaged and shut, limited communications and all roads in and out of the town blocked by fallen trees.

Fire Service regional commander responsible for the Buller Brendan Nally says there was no way he could fly in resources in or send them in by road.

Chief executive of Buller Lines electricity company, Erik Westergaard, says the potential isolation is something that has to be managed.

But he says storms like this are a reminder for the electricity industry as a whole to look at future-proofing the entire network:

He says in common with all other electricity networks, trees adjacent to power lines are a problem and the industry is looking at ways to lessen the damage caused by trees blown over in storms.

William Lomax-Sawyer on ladder and Ash Bradley from Buller Electricity restore power to one of the thousands of homes which lost power.

William Lomax-Sawyer on ladder and Ash Bradley from Buller Electricity restore power to one of the thousands of homes which lost power. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Two weeks on from the storm, Buller mayor, Garry Howard, admits it's a chance to reflect on how the situation was handled.

However he says the upside of the storm is the community learnt a lot about how to deal with such a situation - particularly in terms of restoring power and communications.

And Buller resident Brenda Larsen says being cut off is just the reality of living on the Coast.

"It's not that rare really, that we're isolated for a short period of time, a lot of people have been saying that it's made them realise they have to be prepared like having little gas burners and to heat water."

She says the council is still arranging free pick-ups of green waste from people's properties such as fallen branches which has been a huge help.